How to manage a social media crisis

You spot a derisory comment about your firm on Twitter. Do you post an angry rebuttal or ignore it? If you're thinking, 'I'm not sure', you need this six-point guide to managing a social media crisis from Olivier Njamfa, CEO of customer interaction firm Eptica.

by Olivier Njamfa
Last Updated: 25 Sep 2015

In crisis situations, social media is increasingly the front line for managing the customer relationship. News of customer service issues spreads quickly on Twitter and Facebook, making them visible to the entire world. If you do not communicate with disgruntled customers, you could find your company in very negative spotlight, drawing in people who may not even have been affected by the original problem.

Companies need to act fast and smart to minimise the risk of reputation damage and protect the company’s brand.
Most companies already monitor social media to keep tabs on what people are saying about them. But how do you respond when things do go wrong?  Here are six key tactics if you want to use social media to calm a crisis:

1) You have to be in it to win it

There’s no way you can suddenly start using social media to address a crisis if you don’t already maintain a good presence on social channels. To be able to communicate and get your message through when things go wrong, you should already be visible and active on the networks that your customers use. So make sure you are on the right social channels now.

2) Don’t just pile in

While you might want to respond immediately to any negative customer comments, it’s sometimes more sensible to wait, watch and listen before deciding the right moment to step in. Reacting too quickly could fan the fires of a potential crisis rather than calming it down. Amongst the negative voices, there can also be people already saying positive things to defend your business which you can reinforce. It’s obviously much stronger if somebody else – not connected to your company- responds to any criticism.

3) Acknowledge the issue and apologise early

If there really is a major company crisis, then a senior figure needs to be seen to take responsibility quickly. Social media is a perfect platform to do this. When BlackBerry maker, RIM, experienced a major service outage last year, it was a great idea for its MD to make an apology using YouTube. But get the timing right; unfortunately for RIM it happened days into the crisis which was deemed way too late by disgruntled users and observers.

4) Customer service should be joined up

What you are saying on social media needs to be consistent with what customers are being told on the phone, the web site and branches or outlets. Mixed messages will create confusion and build more resentment, adding fuel to the fire. Crisis messaging and content needs to be centrally developed and co-ordinated so customers experience a joined-up response.

5) Be human

When mobile phone network O2 faced a barrage of furious tweets in the midst of a recent service outage, instead of ignoring them, it kept talking to its customers on social media.  It responded with humour to offensive messages and its responses were shared many times over throughout the twittersphere. O2 was widely praised by customers and marketing experts for its ‘cool’ social media approach.  Following O2’s example could help you to turn a negative situation into a positive.

6) Offer compensation

Provide a goodwill gesture to customers by offering compensation such as free upgrades, refunds or vouchers, to those who might have been affected – but ensure it is adequate and appropriate to the level of disruption caused and publicise this across social media channels.

Ignoring your customers on social media is a high risk strategy that can lead to increased damage to your reputation when things go wrong.  But if your company is prepared to be open and fully embrace customers through social networks, you will have a powerful tool for improving your reputation and turning a crisis around.

Olivier Njamfa is CEO of multi channel customer interaction software company, Eptica

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