Social media has revolutionised the way that businesses communicate with their customers, and more importantly, how customers communicate with businesses.
It’s never been so easy for customers to publicly make their opinions heard and seen. This transparency can be both a blessing and a curse for any business with social media platforms.

Providing excellent customer service should be a key pillar to any business, but this alone will not always guarantee happy customers, 100% of the time. An angry social media post that goes viral is bad enough, but combine this with a poorly handled response, and your business’ reputation is in serious trouble.

Even if your company prides itself on being first class in it’s approach to customer service, there are still a whole host of reasons things can go awry and lead to a social media disaster.

The rogue employee
Employees with access to social media hold your business reputation in their hands.

As HMV learnt the hard way in 2013, disgruntled employees can have a significant impact on a business if they decide to go out in a blaze of glory. Social media page hijacks, personal detail sharing and abusive responses to customers are just some of the cringe-inducing scenarios that have happened before, and will undoubtedly happen again.

So, how can you and your business make sure you aren’t one of those featured on ‘Social Media Fail’ blog posts at the hands of an angry employee? We think that Anca perfectly sums this up in the below quote from her post on the Entrepeneur.

There’s no reason that your social media team should be treated any better, or any worse, than any other employee. Just because they have the ability to post something damaging onto your Facebook page, shouldn’t mean they’re given additional privileges. Creating a culture that keeps your entire work force happy, and addresses any issues they have, goes a long way to avoiding a rogue employee in any capacity.

Be human
Some of the best success stories from corporate social media accounts are down to the hilarity, empathy, or above and beyond service of the person responding on the company’s behalf. Stop training your staff to give out robotic responses, but instead set out clear guidelines on what shouldn’t be discussed on social media.

Allowing your social media team to put their own personal stamp on their social posts will also allow them to feel as though they are responding as themselves, and not as a nameless person copying and pasting approved responses all day. Let your social team add their name or initials to their replies, so your customers know they’re speaking to one person.

Some companies are now specifically known for their witty, switched-on and personal approach to their social media accounts, which in turn simply further encourages interaction. By establishing the business, and those using the social media accounts, as consistent and caring, you’re actually actively helping to diffuse situations before they start. It’s far easier for a customer to let loose on a faceless business, but if they feel that they’re speaking to a friendly and helpful person, they will be much more likely to reach a resolution quickly.

Plan for disaster
It’s naive to think that you’ll never encounter a social media meltdown because you feel like you do everything right.

The worst thing any business can do is delete complaints in an attempt to keep them from getting out of hand. NEVER do this, and make sure your social media managers know this, too. Remember – What happens on social media, stays on social media.

Accept & apologise
As I mentioned, sometimes, a business can feel like it’s doing everything right, but still end up with a social media crisis on it’s hands. This is where recovery and brand protection come into play. If you’ve been smart enough to have a Disaster Plan in place, your team will be prepared, and equipped, to deal with it. Timeliness is important, your social media team should have the ability to respond and react as soon as they see an issue unfolding. Cutting through red tape, or waiting for approval on a response can mean that a lengthy, angry, Facebook post could’ve had 1000’s of shares before the business’ response is even visible.
There should be 4 steps considered for every social media complaint you receive.

1. Respond.
Acknowledge the message and it’s content. Apologise and request more information. Don’t push the customer into emailing a Customer Support team (annoying) or into private social inboxes. You should want to be seen to give awesome service, don’t try and brush a complaint under the carpet by trying to hide the customer.

2. React.
Once you have all the relevant information you need to follow up on the complaint, react straight away in order to find out how and why the problem has happened.

3. Rectify.
A successful social team have the authority to offer solutions straight away. Keep the customer in the loop at all stages, and be seen to offer a satisfactory solution with customer service that goes above and beyond expectation.

4. Resolve.
Make sure that the customer confirms that they’re happy with the resolution you’ve provided. If they go quiet, make sure that the social team has set aside a reasonable time to send a follow up comment/tweet in order to touch base.

Any and all social media complaints should be logged in a CRM system of some sort. This can help identify if there are any customers abusing the nature of great customer service, as well as keep employee responses on file in the event they’re ever needed in future.

Staff knowledge
Any member of staff that is using a business’ social media platforms should know the business like the back of their hand. Better, even. Without knowledge of the business values, demographics or history, their style of communication won’t necessarily be on the mark when it comes to the interaction aspect of social media management.

Training is even more important for staff that have access to social media. Allow them the freedom to respond as a person, but make sure that guidelines are in place.

Respond appropriately
Staff at one branch on Sainsbury’s made a huge faux pas of putting up a staff room poster in the main window of their store. The poster states “Fifty pence challenge – Let’s encourage every customer to spend an additional 50p during each shopping trip between now and the year-end.” Although upselling is a common retail tactic, the display of this poster simply served to make shoppers feel like they were being conned. Ouch.

What made the situation worse? The guy responding on behalf of Sainsbury’s came off as abrasive and almost rude. Sorry, Ross. Sainsbury’s could’ve used this incident as a marketing tool – such as highlighting the savings customers make in their Price Match guarantee (now in it’s redundancy).

One business’s fail can sometimes be another’s win. This advert by budget supermarket and competitor, Lidl, took a swing at Sainsbury’s Fifty Pence Challenge gaffe with their very own ‘Fifty Pence Challenge’ ad, highlighting that they aim to make customers save their money, as opposed to trying to pry more from them.

Note the use of ‘lovely customers’ – psychology is key here. Although Lidl’s carefully displayed, and low priced, knick-knacks at the checkout show they too focus on upselling, this is a great example of how social media crisis’ can be used as a marketing tool.

A word of warning – Use a competitor’s failing at your own peril, they’ll be waiting for a chance to do the same.

Approach a #hashtag with caution
Hashtags are second nature to those who use social media, and are another tool businesses can effectively use to spark conversation around a specific campaign or talking point. As with anything else on social media, a dedicated hashtag can backfire.

Before any dedicated hashtags are used on social media, make sure that the social team have spent time directly considering any potential negatives that could come from it before publishing. After all, a poorly considered hashtag is simply asking for bad publicity.

Turn those DM’s on
Many businesses make the decision to turn their Direct Messages (DM’s) off. It’s easy to see the logic behind why businesses do this, but is it really such a good idea?

Sure, there’s going to need to be more time and resource allocated into managing the inbox, but this isn’t something that should be considered as expendable. If you don’t give your customers the ability to directly contact you, you’re asking for far more occurrences of public complaints.

It’s important to keep in mind that no social media plan is ever going to be guaranteed problem-free. The very nature of social media is that it is totally unpredictable, and that’s why preparedness is absolutely crucial to see a successful turnaround in the event of the dreaded social media crisis.

Hopefully these tips will help you ensure that you’ve streamlined your social media crisis management, and also have avoided a few potential no-nos.