When social media hits the fan: Damage Control

When social media hits the fan: Damage Control

Someday you’re going to get an unhappy client/customer. Maybe you made a mistake, maybe an employee, maybe client is an unreasonable jerk, either way it’s going to happen. The problem is that in today’s connected world it’s easier for one person’s bad experience to turn into a hornets nest of bad reviews, name calling, and overreaction.

It’s not a question of if, but when are you going to get a bad review online. This is a problem, because as a business owner your company is your baby. You’ve worked hard and it can be hard to stay calm when someone is attacking something that you’ve put so much time, effort and money into.

Before I get into the best practices for addressing complaints on social media, let me tell you a story concerning a friend of mine.
The following blog post is inspired by actual events, however names  have been changed to protect the innocent.

An acquaintance of mine had a lousy experience at a restaurant in my home town , I’m going to call it Kramer’s (I’m not going to get into what happened at the bar he visited, because the point of this article is to focus on social media). The next day my friend (whom I shall call Sam, because it’s the first name I thought of) wrote a Facebook status update detailing his lousy experience.

Sam has over 1500 Facebook friends, he’s well known in the area in which I grew up and is extremely well liked. His legions of friends descended upon the Facebook page of the bar that gave him trouble like a swarm of locusts. Within a few hours the bar had gotten at least 20 1-star reviews and its Facebook wall was covered in angry messages from well connected people from the area. It was in short a social media nightmare for a small business.

The bar decided to double down, and instead of addressing Sam directly they began commenting back and deleting posts they didn’t agree with. This only riled up all of Sam’s friends and soon the negative reviews were coming in faster and faster. The bar then made a public post in which they called Sam a liar and threatened to close the Facebook page. Within a few minutes they followed up on their threats and shut down their entire Facebook page. Sam’s friends have since been posting bad reviews on yelp and trip advisor.

So in summary: they really screwed up.








So, how can you avoid having something like this happen at your business? (Aside from avoiding angry customers in the first place)

The first thing is to have a plan, like so many things in life “You will not rise to the occasion, you will default to the level of your training”. By knowing what you are going to do when a bad review comes in you can avoid making a bad situation worse.

So here is my 5 step process for keeping your social media accounts from becoming a liability.

  1. Step away from the keyboard. It can be easy to fire off a few unwise comments when you initially feel attacked. You own your business, and as such it’s hard to remain detached. Remember that nobody has ever said “I wish I had reacted to that Facebook comment sooner and with more anger”.
  2. Write out your response. Use a pen and paper, and when you’re done have someone who isn’t emotionally invested in the situation take a look at it. When you hand it to them don’t say “look at what I wrote as a response to the worst human being on earth!”. Rather, let your proofreader come to their own conclusions.
  3. Depending on the publicity of the bad review consider drafting two responses.
    • One response is for the general public, in this one you want to calmly explain that you’re having a difference of opinion. Don’t use the unhappy customer’s name, just acknowledge the situation and make it clear that you’re addressing it. This option is only necessary if the customer’s review has started getting a lot of attention and it’s not always the best way to go. Obviously you don’t want to bring more attention to a bad situation, but if the review is getting a lot of attention this can be a good way to slow things down.
    • Your second response is directed to the unhappy customer, it should be delivered as privately as possible, but expect them to share it with others. Once again, remain calm and ask if you can sort the problem out. If your company did something wrong, admit it here. Also, don’t be afraid to apologize  even if you did nothing wrong. Remember: you didn’t go into business to win arguments with your customers.
  4. Try to view this as an opportunity to come out looking like the good guy. If you show that you’re attentive, apologetic, and professional, this bad review might actually work in your favor. A few companies have actually gotten PR boosts by addressing complaints in a professional way. //consumerist.com/2009/06/26/bacon-love-story-a-man-a-dream-a-salted-meat/
  5. Think long term. Why did this happen, and can it be prevented? If the client is mad about something you have no control over, then work on setting expectations. If there is a problem with your staff, your products or even your own actions then it’s time to think about changing one of these things.

Hard and fast rules to live by

  • Don’t delete bad reviews or ban people you don’t like. When people find out you’re removing critical comments it makes you look even worse. The only time you can break this rule is if someone is using harsh language or making comments based with regards to race, gender, orientation, religious affiliation etc. (You get the idea)
  • Never call anyone a liar. Even if they’re lying. If you have hard facts that contradict the other party go ahead and present them.
  • No name calling, swearing etc. I can’t believe that this has to be said, but apparently people still struggle with this concept.
  • Never type in ALL CAPS. No matter what you’re saying, you come across as a total jerk.
  • Assume that every message, email, text, tweet you send a client is going to end up on the internet.
  • Finally, remember that no response is much better than a terrible response. Don’t feed the trolls kids. Or to put it another way:


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Posted by RJ Mey

RJ Mey