A social media crisis can hit any company, of any size, at any time. It can be anything from an unhappy customer having a tough day and posting about it publically, to a business challenge you haven’t been able to resolve and it spills out on social media, or, quite simply, human error with a typo. These things can spiral into the view of the media and impact business if they are not managed correctly.

But luckily, there is a heap of simple steps you can take to help prevent your next social media crisis before it happens.

There are a few factors that can cause small issues to escalate to become big issues, which can become a social media crisis. In it’s essence, this can often come back to businesses not responding to issues fast enough when they crop up.

When we break this down, what we’re really talking about is:
a) Not seeing when issues happen.
b) Not knowing what to say when things go wrong.
c) Not knowing who should say it when things go wrong.
d) Not responding fast enough to the complaint.

Let’s look at some simple best-practise processes you can put in place, so you’re on the front foot when a crisis happens.

Set Up A Moderation Processes

One of the issues that can cause problems on social media is when someone has an issue with a business product or service, and that business simply doesn’t respond to the issue. Not only does this look like they don’t care about the customer, but it has the potential to snowball when multiple other people comment that they have had the same issue. It’s a bad look.

A simple fix is setting up a moderation process: someone sweeps your social media channels regularly for comments.

This could be that someone checks it morning and night, or a few times a week, or you have emails set up to ping you when new comments are posted. It could be that each staff member has a day of the week that they sweep the channels and it’s marked in their calendar, or perhaps your office manager reviews the channels every morning. It does depend on how busy your page is – some businesses will need to check hourly, some daily. But either way, keep in mind that best practise dictates that customers expect a response from businesses within 24 hours or less, especially if it’s within business hours.

Whatever the process is that works for your business – the most important thing is that you have a process and ensure you stick to it, even when you’re busy.

Action item #1: Who in your office can review your social channel for comments once a week (or once a day)? Put it in their calendar or to-do list now.

Establish FAQs

When a customer asks a curly question, a huge barrier in responding is that staff simply don’t know what to say. Creating a centralised FAQ document so all staff who man your social media accounts can refer to the FAQs is essential. Whether it’s saved on a server or a Google Doc, make sure everyone has access to the document. Even if this document just has answers to simple questions like “What is your phone number?”, setting up the routine of having a process where staff refer to a centralised document for easy questions is important so when it gets to the tough ones, they know where they can go for the answer.

Remember, there is value in posting responses publicly, because these answers are a resource for other customers who come to the page who have a similar question. Not everything needs to be answered via private message: just confidential questions with personal information, or tricky questions.

Action item #2: If you don’t have a FAQ document, start one up. Who in your business is customer or client facing? Send them an email along these lines:
“Hi guys, We’re looking at setting up a centralised cheatsheet for all staff which addresses the FAQs we get from customers. Please send me an email with the 5 most common questions customers ask you, and your response (if you have one). This is due Friday, 10am. I will collate this into one document and we can catch up Friday at 1pm to workshop. BYO bagels. Thanks!”

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Setting up permission

So we’ve tackled monitoring comments and FAQs, so this addresses common questions being seen, and responded to, quickly. But what happens when they are harder questions that you need to investigate internally to get the answer? A correct response for a customer might take a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks to obtain. But the customer on the other end of the computer doesn’t know that you’re looking into it if you don’t tell them. They just feel frustrated and ignored, so it’s important to communicate that you are investigating. It’s easy enough to say “Hi Peggy, we’re really sorry to hear about this situation. We’ll need to review this with our team internally and get back to you.”
This point is about giving yourself permission to not have every answer, every second or every day. Because we’re human. Life will always throw us curve balls and tricky questions or tough situations. But as long as you tell that customer that you’re investigating, you’ve still acknowledged them within 24 hours, even if you don’t have the final answer yet.

Action item #3: Update your FAQs document with the phrase “Hi x, we’re really sorry to hear about this situation. We’ll need to review this with our team internally and get back to you. If you can send us a PM with your contact details so we can get in touch when we have an answer, that would be amazing!”

Internal catchups

Let’s extend the previous step and consider that sometimes there will be questions you don’t have the answer to immediately – but other teams in your business will.

Let’s say that you work for a magazine publisher, and someone has asked if you have any copies of the December issue left. You need to call the warehouse, who needs to have someone see how much stock is left. This is a multi-team approach.

But it’s quite often that we don’t have a system set up to get answers between teams.

Discuss what kinds of questions you might be sent, which requires you to talk to other teams to answer. Select a contact in each department, and work out a process so an answer can be provided to the customer or client as quickly as possible.

Action item #4: On your FAQs document, set up a column just for internal actions, and make a note on the name and contact details of who you need to contact to answer specific queries. Include a note if the details are the same for out-of-hours queries.

Don’t forget to consider to include processes around good things that come in via social media: like new sales opportunities, for example.

Pushing it offline

For tricky issues or private conversations, it’s best to move these to a private space. No one wants to be the star of a car-crash gossip article about the latest social media disaster – so if there’s a tricky conversation, move it to a private space. This can be as simple as “Hi Peggy, we’re really sorry to hear about your experience. Can you please send us a private message with your contact details as we’d love to get in touch to hear more about your experience. -Julia.” No only does this take the conversation off a public space, the customer feels they are getting personal attention, and both parties put a human face to the person on the other end. It can be common for people to see businesses as ‘faceless corporations’, and the sooner you can break down those barriers, the sooner a real conversation can happen to solve the issue.

Action item #5: Who is your go-to person who is handling tricky situations when they need to be escalated to management? It is different based on the kind of query or department? Add a note to your FAQs document about who needs to be looped into specific issues that arise. (This might be something that comes out of your Friday bagel meeting).

The checklist

If you’ve been following along, you have five steps which are needed to pull together the basics of not just a FAQs document, but a social media crisis prevention plan.

In the end, this document is a combination of a how-to guide and a fire-escape plan. For the day-to-day queries, it’s a living, breathing resource, and for the escalated issues, this planning will mean that issues can be resolved quickly, with the minimum of fuss.

Now, with this checklist, we’ve tackled all the key issues that cause social media issues to spiral out of control:

a) Not seeing when issues happen.
b) Not knowing what to say when things go wrong.
c) Not knowing who should say it when things go wrong.
d) Not responding fast enough to the complaint.

For even more detail for how to create a Social Media Crisis Prevention Plan for your business, check out my webinar on How to Design a Social Media Crisis Prevention Plan in Under 10 Minutes with Russell Allert as part of IndiePro 2017. It goes into this process in more detail and comes with a free template, too. Check it out on the IndiePro site here.


About Rachel Beaney

Rachel Beaney is an Australian freelance social media specialist with over a decade in digital media. She’s worked with global names like Microsoft, Samsung, News Corp and General Assembly, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping clients solve their business needs with creative and data-driven solutions. Get in touch today to jump on a free consultation call to find out how Rachel can help you.