Imagine that things are going great for your business (we certainly hope they are!) You’re keeping up with your social media accounts, you have great content writers, and you frequently engage with your customers all over the World Wide Web.
Then, out of nowhere, a crisis hits. Your phone lines go out for days and you can’t take call-in orders. Your website crashes. Someone has stolen customers’ credit card information. You shipped out a defective product. And before you know it, the Internet explodes with customers talking about you, and not in a good way.
How should you handle your social media sites when crisis strikes? Sit back and ignore it? Face it head-on? Here are some tips on handling your social media accounts during a company crisis.
Have a Plan Ahead of Time
It’s a plan you hope to never have to use, but it’s a good idea to know ahead of time how you will respond to a company crisis. Come up with a policy as to how you will respond, or not respond, to what’s being said online. It doesn’t take long for customers to start buzzing about your company online, especially if the company is at fault for the crisis.
Learn from Others
In 2009, two Domino’s Pizza employees posted an inappropriate video on YouTube of the two of them doing non-sanitary things to the food. It didn’t take long for the company CEO to post an apology video on YouTube to address the situation. Using YouTube provided an immediate reaction to what could have been a fatal video to the Domino’s Pizza franchise.
After the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill, BP did a fine job of updating customers on what they were doing to correct the problem. What BP didn’t do was engage with its customers. It rarely responded to criticism and even went so far as to attempt to get Twitter to shut down the accounts of people saying negative things about BP. Don’t try and hide what people are saying. Address it.
In 2010, Nestle got itself into a social media nightmare when its Facebook poster was sarcastic and flat-out rude with many customers. After facing rumors of purchasing palm oil that contributed to rainforest destruction, some graphic artists took the Nestle logo and changed it to show their distaste with the company. Nestle fired back, claiming the use of their altered logo violated their trademark and said anyone using the altered logo on their Facebook page would have their comments deleted.
The public reacted negatively, claiming free-speech rights, and Nestle responded with a bad attitude where everyone could see- on their Facebook page. Soon, customers weren’t only talking about the palm oil issue, but also the Facebook issue. As if one crisis wasn’t enough, Nestle created a crisis on top of another.
Be a Person, Not a Response
The human touch will get you much further than a canned or automated response in times of crisis. Believe it or not, the way you react during a crisis can turn into a bonding experience with your customers and actually improve your reputation as a company. If your company messed up, be honest. Apologize and let your customers know how you plan on fixing the problem and what you will do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Seek What Customers are Saying
Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only places people will be talking. It’s a good idea to have your company on “Google Alerts,” so any time you’re mentioned in the press, you will be alerted. Also, check online forums and message boards to see what people are saying. Look at things from the perspective of your customers, and ask for ideas on how to make things right.
Honesty is always the best policy. If your company messed up, say it, and then let people know how you plan on fixing things. In 2011, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, dropped out of a speaking commitment when a gay rights organization insisted it would boycott Starbucks and turn up the heat if the CEO spoke at Willow Creek Community Church’s annual Leadership Summit. Bill Hybels crafted an incredibly sensitive, honest, and thoughtful public relations statement about the issue.
Silence is NOT Golden
Don’t be silent. Not reacting to a crisis leaves the door open for people to come up with their own reasons as to why the crisis happened. And if you aren’t responding to the false information, why wouldn’t customers believe it to be true?
On the other hand, if you’re a celebrity and embarrassing a cheating girlfriend is not your objective, then take the higher road and skirt. You can show up and move forward without disclosing every single detail of an inside disaster.
In times of crisis, the key is to be prepared and address the issues as soon as possible. Know that it doesn’t mean the end of the world, no matter how bad things may seem. Social media can be your best friend in times of crisis, so use it for good.
Editor’s Note: A professional response to criticism is essential; however, individuals and groups that use social media to embarrass corporations, celebrities, non-for-profits, and governments should expect heat in reverse – if not from the party under attack then certainly from supporters and fans. Both parties (not just the one being attacked) are subject to public scrutiny and criticism when social media is involved. As in any conflict, if at all possible, solving disagreements in private is wisest.