Gaining Control of a Social Media Disaster


Gaining Control

Unless you’ve been unplugged from electronics and the news recently, you’ve undoubtedly seen the unfolding of the corporate PR nightmare involving Subway’s success story, and former poster boy, Jared Fogle. Even if your businesses doesn’t have the ad budget of Subway, you can still run into issues on social media that require some delicate handling. Assuming the issue you are handling doesn’t involve jail time, here are some suggestions in weathering a social media storm.

Assess the Seriousness of the Issue and Act Accordingly

Humor is never the answer in serious social media firestorms, but if it’s a lesser debacle than something illegal, ethical issues, highly emotional topics, or environmental ones, try a little humor to defray the fallout.

The American Red Cross’ social media person mistook its Twitter account for a personal one (on Hootsuite, it’s easy to do) and posted:

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Instead of a barrage of apologies or a silent deletion, Red Cross was quick to use humor in its defense with:

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Address Bad Reviews Publicly and Privately

We’ve all seen bad reviews answered by managers with a chip on their shoulder. It doesn’t paint a good view of the business, even if they’re in the right. If someone gives your business a less than stellar review, apologize publicly for not exceeding their expectations than offer to take the conversation offline. This way you are seen publicly as addressing their concerns, and listening, but you’re not throwing mud at one another on a public site.

Keep in mind the customer is always right and keying it into a social media post, blog post, or email is the same as writing a letter. You’re one copy and paste away from seeing your commentary in print. Choose words wisely.

Respond Quickly

Generally the larger the company is, the longer it takes to respond because of the sign-offs involved. Social media happens 24/7 at the speed of light. If you don’t address a concern within a few hours, things escalate quickly.

If you’re looking into it, respond with that. At least the poster (and anyone else interested) knows you are aware of the concern. “Looking into it” provides you a few more hours of time, not days, unless it is a VERY complex issue.

Stay in contact online, and post updates. While you’re doing so you may want to stop your auto posts, otherwise you may make a very important issue seem trivial.

Do Not Delete

While this is a point of contention among social media strategists, I’m in camp do not delete. Getting back to the Red Cross example that happened nearly half a decade ago, the post was only up for about an hour and then deleted. 4 and a half years later it took me twenty seconds to type a search into Google and find a copy of it.

Delete doesn’t work.

It’s already out there. Often deleting only inflames the other side and makes them feel like you don’t want to address the issue. With the Red Cross it was an embarrassing tweet so no one jumped on the conspiracy bandwagon, but if your issue is more serious, deleting can cause accusations of having something to hide. You end up giving the other side something else to talk about.

Whether you delete your own posts or not is a judgement call, but you should have a very good reason (such as criminal charges or cyber bullying) before you delete a comment that has been posted to your page by someone else. Nothing fuels a fire quite the same way as someone who feels like he’s not being heard. Ever watch a child who doesn’t think he has his mom’s attention? If not, I’ll let you know it doesn’t usually end with said tot going off quietly to read a book.

Delete and ignore someone at your own (or your business’) peril. For anyone who needs proof as to why removing a social media comment is a bad idea, ask Smucker’s.

Take Precautions and Set Expectations

While you can’t prevent every social media issue, you can avoid some of them. Making sure your employees understand that they represent your business at all times on social media is important because social media creates a record. It’s more lasting than a mere conversation with a friend. A chamber of commerce employee learned this lesson the hard way when he complained on Twitter about the wait and service at a local (member) restaurant. While he thought nothing of using his personal account to air his grievance, he created an impression and started a “conversation” that reflected poorly on the chamber. Make sure your employees understand this before something like this example happens.

Social media gives everyone a bullhorn and people are more apt to broadcast negative experiences than they are positive ones. As the saying goes, a satisfied customer will tell their friend; an unsatisfied one will tell the world. Do your best to exceed customer expectations and address issues quickly as they appear on social media. Letting them fester makes you look worse than guilty. It makes you look unresponsive, which is akin to not caring.

A company that doesn’t care is not one most people want to do business with.


Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine,, AssociationTech, and Socialfish. She is a regular blogger at and Event Manager Blog.

She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.