Social media is great for connecting with customers and spreading news about your company. It takes just a few seconds to share a post, and there’s always the chance it could go viral. That’s great news if you’re sharing exciting content about your business, but bad news if the content is negative. For this reason, brands must protect themselves with a social media crisis management strategy before an angry mob strikes.
Attracting the attention of an angry mob can really wreck your Facebook page, Yelp, and other online properties that you may depend on to support your positive reputation. The mob can flood your page with posts and comments, leave negative reviews, and all around just develop a nightmare of a situation that’s difficult, if not impossible, to contain. If you aren’t familiar with what social media mobs can do, take a look at what happened when these businesses were targeted with social media backlash:
- Amy’s Baking Company: After appearing on Kitchen Nightmares, the owners of Amy’s Baking Company went on a tirade that reached epic proportions, reaching Reddit, Facebook, Yelp, and Twitter. Their Facebook page has not been updated since the incident, though their Yelp indicates they’re still in business. Even still, practically every review notes that they’ve visited despite the show and social media backlash.
- Andrea Polito: This wedding photographer had a misunderstanding over a charge with a client, who took their story to an investigative reporter. After the story aired, her Facebook page (which has since been deleted) was overrun. The photographer is now suing for defamation.
- Food Network: After Paula Deen was dropped from the Food Network’s lineup, her fans took to their Facebook page to leave thousands of angry comments. They commented on unrelated posts, taking any opportunity possible to air their grievances.
- Applebee’s: After a toddler was served a margarita, it seems everyone who’s ever had a problem with the restaurant came out of the woodwork to share their opinion.
- Lowe’s: After Lowe’s pulled advertising on the “All American Muslim” program on TLC, the company faced backlash on Facebook. Fans thought the company made the decision based on a complaint from the Florida Family Association.
- AT&T: AT&T sent out a thank you message highlighting network improvements and other details, including a link to their Facebook page. That sparked an avalanche of complaint comments on their wall, and AT&T continues to have negative comments on nearly every post on their wall.
How to Draft a Social Media Crisis Management Plan
As you can see, a social media mob is a nightmare — and it can have effects that last for months, even years. It’s typically not possible to control the mob, but what you do in response can have a significant impact on how they react and what happens to your reputation. Follow these tips to build a social media crisis management plan.
Take Preventive Measures
The best way to deal with a social media crisis is to avoid attracting an angry mob. Trolls often act in response to news stories, inappropriate tweets, and other incidents that may pop up. And while it’s not always possible to know what will cause a mob to come after your page, you can take steps to minimize your risk.
- Have an active presence established: You shouldn’t wait until there’s a problem to interact with your audience. Develop regular social media posts — and not just broadcasts. Respond to comments, spark a conversation, and develop relationships with your page’s audience. Assign a dedicated social media manager that can stay on top of your social media presence.
- Set up social media alerts: If something is going wrong, you’ll want to know right away so you can handle it properly. With social media alerts, you’ll be able to find out as soon as someone posts a negative comment on your page or shares a post.
- Don’t do anything to attract a mob: Easier said than done, but there’s often a predictable pattern. Most importantly, you should avoid using sensitive days, deaths, and other touchy subjects to promote your business. And while you can’t predict every single thing that might upset consumers and their friends on social media, it’s best to stick to positive customer service and professional communication.
- Address criticism immediately: Often, complaints that go unchecked will grow into bigger problems. A customer that feels they aren’t being heard may share their frustration with friends, and their friends, and so on. It’s important to deal with criticism quickly before it has a chance to go viral. If appropriate, get the conversation off of social media to deal with the issue privately — but be sure to come back and update the post with a resolution.
Do. Not. Delete. Anything.
Don’t delete posts. If you do, you are opening yourself up to a world of hurt. The absolute worst thing to do with an angry mob is to silence them. They want to be heard, and deleting comments will only throw gas on the fire. Although comments may be ugly and embarrassing to your company, you must not delete them.
Once word gets out that you’re deleting comments, the mob will be even more upset and fervent to post. But worse than that, deleting posts makes it look like you’ve got something to hide. Encourage transparency and simply let the comments stay.
Respond to the Conversation
Instead of deleting, leave a thoughtful response. Sometimes, it’s not possible to respond to every single comment or post, but putting forth an effort to communicate will make a difference. Saying something is typically better than saying nothing — unless you handle it defensively like Amy’s Baking Company.
Make your response professional and levelheaded, avoiding defensiveness or pointing fingers. Defuse emotions by publicly acknowledging their feelings. Apologize if it’s appropriate. Share the facts, and encourage transparency. It’s also smart to give a human response and avoid corporatespeak. If you’ve put your foot in your mouth, just admit it. Send a message that you recognize what you’ve said is in poor taste and apologize. And of course, be sure to fix the problem if there is one.
When you respond, you should make your post stand out. Often, your voice can get buried among the mob, so instead of making a response post on a long thread of comments, make a new post and highlight it. Consider developing a quick video or photo so that it will really get noticed.
Whatever you do, do not wait. Yes, it’s OK to go over the post with a team. After all, this response is one that you may be seeing picked apart over and over again for weeks and months. But it’s essential that you respond quickly. Silence can kill your social media page. Not only will fans be frustrated if you usually respond quickly and then go silent, but your silence may also be translated as guilt. Issues will not be resolved just by you leaving them alone. Rather, they’re likely to get worse.
Lowe’s discovered how much of a problem silence can be when they left their Facebook page unattended over an entire weekend. While they were out, angry fans left more than 23,000 comments, many of them racist and offensive. Later, Lowe’s followed up with a well written response, but the damage was done.
Ultimately, even if a social media mob goes viral, having a levelheaded response in place will be reported in articles and blog posts discussing the incident and is likely to positively influence the conversation. You may find supporters backing you up if you are able to respond professionally.
Liberty Bottleworks is a good example of how powerful a professional, human response can be. They responded respectfully and professionally, but they got their point across and shared the facts while defending themselves. And while the original complaint didn’t get much attention, their levelheaded response went viral and received positive feedback.
Applebee’s did a good job too, letting people know how they changed their processes. They also made it a point to respond conversationally to nearly everyone that made a comment on their page.
Don’t Make a Fake Social Media Account
With a positive, professional response, you may find supporters to back you up. That’s great news! But in any case, you should not create supporters of your own. It’s a really bad idea to develop a fake social media account for the purposes of voicing support for your side.
Sound like a silly thing to do? It may have already happened. Chick-fil-A was accused of creating a fake account under the name of “Abby Farle” to defend the company after a controversial toy recall. The company denies that they had anything to do with the fake account.
Whether or not the accusations are true, signing up for a new account to make comments that support your business has the potential to blow up in your face. It looks bad — as if you have something to hide, or can’t find legitimate supporters. Just don’t do it.
Ban Legitimate Trolls
While it’s important to respond to legitimate comments and complaints — and of course, avoid deleting any responses, there’s another set of rules for dealing with users who clearly aren’t interested in a conversation. These users are known as “trolls,” and often post vulgar images or videos, inane comments, and may rely heavily on profanity. Their posts may not make any sense or seem to have any point. They can clog up your page and make it look bad, and while it’s rarely a good idea to delete posts from your page normally, in this case, you should. At a minimum, you should take the high road and avoid responding to them, as it’s never a good idea to engage with a troll.
Above all, remember that although an angry mob can be a nightmare situation, eventually, it will pass. The mob will move on in a few days or weeks, faster if you can handle it well. Focus your efforts on responding professionally and personally, but take a deep breath and put it in perspective: next week, it may all be just a memory.