When a storm hits: six tips for dealing with social media fiascos
Is the online community unloading its anger on your company? You don’t need to panic. Instead, you can prepare perfectly for such a scenario. Why not follow our six pieces of advice for handling online storms of rage and insults, or “shitstorms”, as they are known in Germany?
I can recall the first big storms of online fury in Germany – and the agitated reactions on all sides. The media went crazy. Company spokespeople reacted like savages. PR and marketing specialists had their hands full trying to make sense of the emerging phenomenon – not to mention trying to calm everybody down. The risk of such an online fiasco has since become one of the main arguments against corporate social-media accounts.
Recent evaluations of online storms, however, indicate that the negative impact is relatively minor . In addition, companies are no longer helpless when a hurricane hits social media. The series of measures below can equip companies to effectively handle negative comments. Armed with these six tips, you can remain calm in the face of any virtual “shitstorm.” Alternatively, you can ensure that storm clouds never form in the first place.
1. Proactively prevent storms
The best online storm is the one that never happens. How can you do this? The answer is simple, but implementing it means work: Look after your community. Address questions, requests, and concerns directly. A strong community will automatically keep unwarranted accusations from gaining momentum successfully. Indeed, your community will typically defend you from an online attacker and stand by you, even in the face of justified reproaches.
But it’s important that you always act with an active customer orientation and on behalf of the brand. If you do this, a natural community will form at your side to counteract online “whiners”.
2. Respond honestly and as quickly as possible
If a large wave of negativity does emerge, then a rapid response is a guaranteed way to minimize additional criticism. People will notice that you are prioritizing the matter and seeking a resolution. That alone tends to smooth the first ruffled feathers. And when you do address a problem, don’t just say you plan to do something – take real action. An honest approach also entails politely but firmly rejecting subjective and unjustified criticism.
If you want to react quickly in the future, you must define an action plan now. Who should be notified of an online storm? Who is allowed to post what? Who will make decisions about the next steps? Under what circumstances will an external specialist be consulted?
3. Take criticism seriously. Always.
Regardless of who complains and what type of criticism you receive, you need to demonstrate that you are taking the matter seriously. Be careful not to act like an arrogant know-it-all. Anything that would make people furious in a personal dispute is forbidden in an online storm as well. Critics are more likely to remain civil when you take them seriously than when they feel insulted by the response they receive.
Do not delete critical comments. This also makes it clear that you take their authors seriously.
Update your community
If your initial reply promises a resolution to the situation, then it is very important to inform your community regularly of the progress of your activities. This also encourages people to stay calm. Instead of fanning the flames of the dispute, people will focus on your status reports.
4. Keep your staff in the loop
If the storm reaches a critical mass, your employees will know about it. In such a case, you need to communicate with your workforce – not via public channels but rather by actively addressing your in-house team. This shows your staff that you value them. What’s more, you can ensure that your in-house operations proceed smoothly. In addition, explain to your employees that they need to comply with in-house social media guidelines.
5. If saying you’re sorry is appropriate, then apologize
Imagine for a moment that the criticism at the eye of an online hurricane is partially or entirely justified. If so, you’ll surely remedy the situation and act accordingly in the future. In such a case, it is important that you apologize to the community. Thank them for their input. And explain what you’re doing to ensure your company won’t make the same mistake again. A healthy community will accept an honest apology and quickly support you again. As hard as it can be to acknowledge a mistake, it pays off to do just that!
6. Stay calm. No storm is forever.
An online fiasco makes people very emotional. This is also true of people who represent your company. Make sure that the response team remains calm at all times. Don’t react to every single provocation. Instead, follow your action plan and stay on target with your status reports.
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