How to manage social media when it all goes belly up

The 'horsemeat in burgers' has been fodder for the Twitterati to slate big companies. So what do you do if your company is suddenly caught up in a national issue or you're faced with an angry customer online?

by Sharron Elkabas
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Here’s how best to handle your social exchanges so your reputation doesn't turn to ruin. 

1. Respond quickly - whether a problem with your product or service is causing an onslaught of tweets or it's an isolated complaint posted on Facebook, the quicker you respond, the better. The longer you leave it the more people will join the conversation, with some jumping to conclusions or making incorrect assumptions.  Customers expect a response within an hour so make sure that someone - either a social media expert or an in-house communications person - is checking posts regularly throughout the day. 

2. Reply appropriately - in certain circumstances it's fine to post a corporate statement from the senior management team outlining the company's position on the issue and details of where customers can go for further help or information.  But never use a standard response to reply to individual messages.  These need to be dealt with on a personal level by your social media agency and your comms team, who will already have built a rapport with many of these customers.   If it feels right then throw some humour and humility into your answers. Sites like Twitter and Facebook thrive on witty replies. But be careful not to misjudge the situation. Making fun out of something that others take seriously could be a major faux pas. 

3. Trust your team - give your comms team the freedom to reply to individual comments at will. Social media is about real time conversations. Insisting that every post has to be signed off first won't work. You'll be too slow to respond and your replies will appear false and premeditated. Letting staff loose online can be a scary prospect so a guide for the comms team to refer to on how to use social media appropriately and how to handle certain circumstances can be reassuring for everyone.  Have a head of social media keeping an eye on all communications to and from the office and make sure your team gets regular training on social comms, especially when a new function or app is launched.  

4. Entice consumers to engage further - whether you see one or one hundred unhappy customers online then, where appropriate, offer for the person to call or email you to try to resolve the matter.  This shows that you care and helps to take the problem offline. 

5.  Don't always reply - if anyone is abusive or uses offensive language then take a screen grab, remove the post immediately and report repeat offenders to organisations such as Internet Safety 101.  

6.  Analyse - regularly review your social media activity. Look at things like how replies are being managed, the context in which they're written and how they're being communicated.  Did you get the outcome you wanted? If not, use this as a learning curve to get it right the next time. But to get it right you need to understand how your customers behave online. What sites do they use? Do most of them read your posts or prefer to download videos? What are they saying about you? This may seem like a humongous task but there are web analytic tools available to help. 

Sharron Elkabas is a co-Director of I'm Socialized, a social media agency

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