Crisis management and social media

social media logos

One of the greatest fears many business owners and managers have with the social web is that someone might say something negative about their brand.

More than that, potential exists for bad news to ricochet from Twitter to Facebook and into the blogosphere maelstrom – and from there spill into traditional media channels (radio, TV, newspapers) – with frightening velocity.

We’ve all heard the horror stories. They do exist, but in most cases they could have been avoided altogether had the brands in question adhered to a few simple truisms.

Ensure quality service

The first thing businesses need to understand is that everyone – and I mean everyone – is now a content producer in some way, shape or form. People who are dissatisfied with a company’s product or service can – and often will – express their displeasure to their personal networks via social media.

LESSON: Ensure your product and – probably more importantly, your service – is up to scratch. No, be on the safe side; make sure your service exceeds expectations. Positive, timely, and responsive customer service will circumvent most issues online (as well as off).

Build a positive and participatory online presence

If an issue about your business breaks on Twitter, you need to deal with it there. You can’t send a press release out: that simply won’t cut it as a response. But what happens if you’re not on Twitter? Oh well, you’ll need to watch from the sidelines. Ouch!

If the issue breaks out via YouTube video – as did the Domino’s crisis a few years back (where a couple of employees did some unspeakable acts to a Domino’s meal, filmed it, uploaded the video to Youtube and it quickly went viral) – the head of Domino’s responded… you guessed it, via YouTube (smart move that).

LESSON: Start building a presence over time on the key social platforms relevant to your business. Participate, add value, be interesting… and interested in others.


Key to participating in the online environment is to monitor what’s going on about your brand and your industry, and be ready to act where necessary.

Many times if an issue brewing, it’s exactly that. It’s brewing. Often ‘red flags’ will be there for all to see. Take the pulse of the situation. Sometimes – indeed most times – it is far better to go public with an issue and nip it in the bud before it blooms into a full-blown crisis.

LESSON: Use free tools such as Social Mention, Google Alerts and Twitter’s Search function (or invest in a more comprehensive monitoring tool if need be) to ensure you keep an ear to the virtual ground, and listen out for rumblings about your brand.


While Domino’s, for instance, responded via the right channel in the example above, the general consensus was they did so too slowly (some 48 hours after the fact). If your brand hasn’t responded, others will fill the vacuum with their comments. This will harm your cause and make you look slow and uncaring.

LESSON: Respond to issues promptly. If you need to gather more information about the issue in question, say that, and then sort the situation out pronto.

Maintain transparency and a constructive tone of voice

Transparency is imperative on the social web.  If you have a company blog and a disgruntled customer writes a negative comment on it, do not under any circumstances delete it just because you don’t agree with the person. Keeping it on your blog – in your own virtual backyard – will speak volumes about your brand (ironically, in a positive way).

LESSON: When responding, show genuine empathy. Generally people who complain are not nasty, it’s just they have an issue and want their voice to be heard. Don’t be faceless – respond as human beings, with names! Don’t be condescending or arrogant, and most importantly, do not pick a fight. It’s not worth it.

(That said, there may be times when you need to take things a step further. Deborah Ng uses the anecdote of Patrick Swayze who played a bouncer named Dalton in the movie Roadhouse. Dalton would try and sort out a situation in the nightclub amicably. However, if he couldn’t, he would take the fight outside. The same in dealing with people online. Sometimes you’ve just got to take the conversation offline rather than let it fester for all to see).

In summary

While this post focused more on the ‘crisis’ side of social media and the negative connotations that come with that, the simple fact remains: If your brand is strong and well-liked, and you’ve built up solid credibility in the social space, then you’re probably halfway towards dealing with any issue that might arise on the net.