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Managing social media disasters

We blogged recently about the role of social media in crisis management; continuing to engage with your social audience is vital for customer loyalty. What happens though when your disaster originates on your social media account?

Plenty of big name businesses and political representatives have been stung by the immediacy and freedom of social media. These great advantages can also be great weaknesses that result in inappropriate or damaging content being published via the company social media. Sometimes the disaster is accidental and sometimes it’s an act of sabotage.

Social media #fails

To use the lingo, a social media ’fail’ could be damaging for your whole organisation. The power of social media means that even if you remove the post it can live on.

Accidental fails fall into several categories, the most common of which are:

  • The post that was meant for a different account. Beware apps like Hootsuite that manage several accounts at once. In fact beware of simply being signed into your private account while working; it’s all too easy to publish a cheeky private post on the company profile by mistake.
  • The post is intentional but insensitive or badly misses the mark. Notoriously bad social media gaffs have included London Luton Airport who tweeted a picture of a plane crash in Chicago with the message “Because we are such a super airport…this is what we prevent you from when it snow…Weeeee :)”.
  • Social media campaigns that go awry. This could be a hashtag that is supposed to be used for followers to share positive experienced with a brand but instead invites negative posts about your company or organization. This happened to the McDonalds last year, who invited Twitter followers to share McDStories. The result was many users posting sarcastic and derogatory stories about the burger chain. More recently PR gurus House PR got into trouble when they promised a journalist free tickets to the Brit Awards if he used a promotional hashtag in his tweets. The backhander quickly backfired when the journalist exposed it on Twitter.

Intentionally damaging posts could also occur in several ways:

  • A disgruntled employee misuses their position. As hundreds of HMV staff faced unemployment in January 2013 a tweet appeared from their account reading “We’re tweeting live from inside HR where we’re all being fired”. The tweets continued as HMV’s management panicked over how to disable the account or remove the tweets. The Twitter account was controlled by the company’s Online Marketing & Social Media Planner and seemingly no one else had access.
  • The account has been hacked. The Labour Party’s Twitter account was hacked recently with some amusing results. On 19/06/14 a tweet from Labour Press Team read “Everybody should have his own owl”. It also contained a shortened link which some people say could have contained a virus.

How to recover

The key to recovering from a social media slip up is to act quickly and always be honest and humble. Mistaken posts intended for a private account are very embarrassing especially if they express negative views about the company or its customers. However they are also fairly easy to deal with. Profuse apologies, a retraction and an explanation will hopefully stop the misdirected post from becoming a big deal. In the right circumstances humour can also be very disarming.

However if an account has been hacked it may throw into question the organisation’s security measures. Although Labour attributes their ‘owl’ tweet to a bot it still shows a weakness by the party that could have put all their followers at risk.

Address the mistake as quickly as possible. The Twitter community in particular are quick to highlight mistakes and once it’s shared it is out of your hands. Always acknowledge your mistakes; ignoring it only causes bad feeling that will accelerate the spread of negative attention around the post.

Find the right tone

Readers might remember when the voice of Red Cross’s Twitter account accidentally tweeted “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas touch beer…. when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd.” The mistake was noticed quickly and handled in just the right way with the next tweet saying “the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys”. This returned the account to the official voice of the Red Cross, reassured followers that the original tweet wasn’t true and showed a sense of humour. Any negative connotations were quickly dissipated.

Allow people to vent

If you make a gaff it might upset some people and you have to acknowledge that and take the heat. It’s not wise to delete comments or try to silence other users. Instead you should allow affected people to vent and respond to each of them. It’s also important not argue with those who are upset. Remain humble and sorry, accepting the comments rather than fighting back against negative feedback.

Some users might need additional support with private messages rather than wall posts. If they continue to post or comment then contact them privately. This will show you are really listening to them.

A social media fail can be turned around if dealt with well and in general the social media community will offer their respect.