Social Media as a Crisis Prevention Tool:

Ignore its Power to Build or Destroy a Brand and Reputation at Your Own Peril

With today’s advanced technology, there is no excuse for an online customer complaint to turn into a crisis. Companies need to learn to respond at lightning speed when a problem erupts on social media. Response in minutes, and not days, is what customers expect today.

online complaint

The vast majority of your stakeholders, regardless of your industry, are active on social media. People turn to apps like Facebook, Twitter and others to share both compliments and criticisms of the brands with which they interact. The old adage that a customer will share a good experience with eight people, and a bad experience with twenty people, has been multiplied ten-thousand-fold by social media.

I’ve used hundreds of commercial websites over the years, and I have used “contact me” functions occasionally to communicate about issues I am having with a product.  I continue to be amazed by how many of these companies never respond. I’ve also used social media to share the same kinds of comments, and I am equally amazed at how quickly I do get a response– sometimes.  So kudos to those companies that understand that they have to have more than a passive presence online.

Why is a fast response so important, anyway? Quite simply, a brand image and reputation take years to build, and if not nurtured through timely communication with stakeholders, can be destroyed in a heartbeat. Reputation, also known as goodwill, has a value on the balance sheet. Simple crisis prevention techniques can protect and even enhance a brand.

It is important to understand some of the realities of social media in a crisis.  First, you can’t detect a smoldering crisis if you are not listening.  Too many organizations have created a social presence but don’t have a live human managing it every day. Others use their social pages strictly for marketing and advertising, missing an opportunity for the brand to engage with stakeholders on a deeper level.

Social media interactions happen in real time and they have to be managed in real time. A recent study found that 40% of customers complaining on social media expect a response within an hour. Another 32% expect a response in 30 minutes! Managing to that expectation can be a huge challenge, but failing to manage it can be costly for the brand.

You can’t control what people post on your pages. You can control how you respond.  Social media is all about transparency, honesty and authenticity.  Stakeholders watch carefully to see if and how you respond to a problem.  Brands that demonstrate that they want to solve customer problems will be rewarded, while those that do not will be punished on social media.

What to do? Encourage the customer to start a dialogue with you directly, expressing remorse for the situation and inviting them to talk with you offline, via email or phone. For example, “I’m sorry you are having a problem with X.  Please contact us directly at 222-222-2222 so we can resolve the issue.”

mad to glad

This level of transparent and authentic response will enhance your reputation as a trusted, customer-centered brand. It is important not to let the trolls dictate your response, however.  And never, ever engage in a debate with an unhappy customer online.  Doing so will only inflame them further, and they will take to other platforms to complain even louder.

Think before you click ‘delete.’ Many people are inclined to simply delete critical posts from their social pages. When a customer is angry, though, I assure you they will find other platforms on which to complain about your brand.  Better to demonstrate responsiveness to the complaint by leaving the post intact and fixing the problem. This does not apply to posts that contain offensive content, such as vulgar language or discriminatory remarks. Those can be deleted with a simple explanation post such as, “In accordance with our policy, this post was removed due to offensive language.”

Respond to your stakeholders on the platform where they first complained.  While Facebook and Twitter are the most popular social platforms, they are not the only ones.  It is imperative that you know and follow any platforms where your brand is talked about.  Blogs, industry sites, and trade publication sites are a natural place to start looking for pages where your brand is a topic of conversation.

What to do?  Learn where your stakeholders talk about your organization online and participate in conversations regularly well before an issue erupts. This works to build reputational “goodwill points” with your audiences that will be invaluable to the brand if a problem erupts.

Every online complaint presents an opportunity to turn a critic into a raving fan. By responding quickly, honestly, and transparently to solve problems raised on social media, brands can continue to build goodwill with their stakeholders, grow their customer base and enhance their reputation—and their bottom line.

Learn more about social media and customer service from Upwork.com: Social Customer Service

 

 

Deb Hileman, CMP, is president and CEO of the Institute for Crisis Management, a crisis management training and consulting firm based in Denver, Colo. She has more than 20 years’ experience managing difficult business issues and a variety of crises, from natural disasters to criminal investigations and humans behaving badly. Her work spans public and privately held companies and non-profit organizations in a variety of industries. Known as a voice of calm in the midst of chaos, Deb has earned a reputation as a trusted strategist and advisor to C-suite executives, operations and other organizational stakeholders. She has successfully managed strategic communications for business issues including natural disasters, labor strikes, criminal prosecutions and federal civil investigations, workplace violence, executive malfeasance, investor litigation, wrongful death and patient abuse investigations, mergers, acquisitions and corporate bankruptcies, among others.