Getting social in a crisis: eight best practices for online response

By Samantha Dancy

Communication channels are becoming harder to manage as messages and platforms become increasingly fragmented. The development of social media not only leaves brands more vulnerable than ever before, but can also throw up a whole host of issues that were not previously encountered.

So what can we do as communications experts to protect and promote our brands online?

1. Anticipate the issues

Take an hour to brainstorm your stakeholders (customers, suppliers, partners, media, influencers) and the most common causes for complaint, whether linked to your service, pricing or products. Anticipating the problems will allow you to prepare solutions and responses in advance.

2. Ensure a credible presence

Ensure you have a profile set up on key social media channels such as Twitter (where bad news generally breaks) and that you actively use it in your day-to-day communications. A crisis is not the time to start trying to establish a social media presence, and responding to a crisis with no previous activity does not give the best impression of your company.

3. Listen

There are a myriad of monitoring platforms available to quickly and easily review any mentions of your brand or products. Platforms such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck allow monitoring of keywords across a variety of different social media networks. These early detection systems can be a simple and effective way of locating a complaint and responding before it has time to develop into a bigger issue with a wider audience.

4. Know what to say and when to say it

It’s important to remain detached, to evaluate the issue and the facts before planning your response. Ensure to acknowledge the issue immediately and ask for an email/private message to be sent with the details. The response needs to be personal and concerned but try not to be defensive or overly apologetic – keep a professional tone at all times.

5. Take it offline

The most important thing to remember when responding to complaints and issues online is that whilst it needs to be publicly acknowledged (to show you are a company that listens and cares), the dialogue does not need to be in the public domain and should be taken offline as soon as possible. Whether this is through private messages on Facebook, DM’s on Twitter, or simply by telephone or email, the easiest thing to do is to ask the person in question for their preferred contact details so that you can get some more information in order to look into it properly – often this is enough reassurance that you are taking the matter seriously.

6. Never hide

Everybody wants their public image to be sparkling, but don’t be tempted to remove what could be construed as potentially negative content from your social media sites. Every complaint and issue is a great opportunity to demonstrate (publicly) your fantastic customer service and commitment, and pretending that the issues don’t exist is only likely to enrage the person who complained and provoke them to further comment on platforms that you may not be able to control.

7. Engage others

If you are using social media effectively, you should have an active and engaged community of potential brand ambassadors behind you. Therefore when a complaint is made, it is the online community who will respond in defense of the brand. This is obviously the strongest form of endorsement and is quite easily achieved from ensuring you have an active and engaged community in the first place – they’re not called fans and followers for nothing!

8. Follow up and learn from it

With some simple preparation and a bit of human empathy, most issues should be easily manageable. What is important however is to ensure the cause of the issue is not forgotten and that action is taken within business operations to prevent it from happening again. Even the most effective communicators cannot contain issues if there are genuinely problems within the business, yet if managed properly, any issue can become invaluable feedback towards business development and innovation.

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This article draws on the knowledge base from ISOC courses on social media and crisis communication. 

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Crisis communication courses