10 Tips for Handling Social Media Crises and Complaints

By Christina Gaines and Richard Niño @stinaegaines | @_Richard_Nino

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Don’t let your company be the folly of a flop, or the butt of a blunder.

When things hit the proverbial fan- Don’t be scared, be prepared.

Here are the 10 tips to not drop the social media ball when issued complaints of higher severity.

1. Take a deep breath.

If it’s your own company you’re checking social for, there may be a level of emotional investment. Don’t let it get to you. Chances are, you didn’t make that quesadilla with a hair in it. You weren’t that disrespectful employee who randomly fired off at a customer, or that manager who made a harrowingly poor decision. It’s not personal. Breathe.

2. Apologize.

If you did something wrong, apologize. However, for legality reasons, never admit fault until you’ve looked into the situation.

Exhibit A:

“We are very sorry to hear about your experience.”

When you apologize for “hearing” about the experience, you are still listening to the concerns of your audience while staying in the safe zone for your company.

3. Don’t be a robot.

Show remorse. Some complaints are easy to empathize with - someone’s young daughter didn’t get her free dessert on her birthday? They sent flowers to your ill grandmother that never showed up? Others aren’t - i.e., they were disappointed by the lack of condiments or perhaps being too harsh on a server. Regardless, make it known that you are a human being behind the screen. One of the most common complaints about social media customer service is a seemingly scripted response. Don’t make your answers the same each time. Vary your words and tailor it to their specific situation. “We apologize for _____, Darlene” sounds infinitely better than a scripted response. Remember, if you are responding to things on a Facebook Wall, everyone else can see it too. Your followers’ trust level will drop if your apologies seem dried up and automated.

4. Post response timely.

The quicker the better. The ideal window for this is 5 minutes for larger businesses such as our clients - I would say within the two hours if you happen to not have a team of monitors at the ready. Get into the habit of checking your social frequently. Don’t let things fall to the wayside. It will only further irritate your already irritated customer.

5. Read 3 times.

Read your response 3 times before posting. Any grammatical errors? Does it sound meaningful and remorseful? Do you sound like you care, or just that this is your job and you’re responding for the sake of responding? At the same time, tread carefully. You shouldn’t appear desperate or unsteady.

6. Get someone else’s good judgment.

I think for tough or obscure situations it’s useful to ask another team member’s opinion. Oftentimes there are things we find that are deemed too inappropriate to respond to, due to profanities or offensive material. Lay out a code of ethics with your company to see what is worth the time of day - and what isn’t. If you’re feeling really daring, work with your company to create a Social Media Guidelines packet that displays who and what your company is about, and how you want to be portrayed on social.

7. Bring the conversation into private quarters.

Whatever you do, get it off the Facebook Wall or Instagram post or Twitter feed. It doesn’t matter who you are, a complaint thread could be jumped on by other keyboard warriors and snowball - don’t let it. Ask the customer to direct message you with their contact information so you can take it offline.

8. Don’t wait to solve the problem.

If you succeed in moving it to direct messaging but skip the follow-up, guess what? They will likely post publicly again, even more agitated. As soon as you receive their contact information, handle it or send it to someone who can.

9. If necessary, create talking points.

Sometimes a crisis can get so bad that you need to create talking points. This will need to be the only time that you should ever have a scripted response. If you’re getting hundreds of posts on your Facebook wall or on your Twitter profile, then a talking point might be necessary. First off, you should apologize for the issue. Next, you let them know the actions that you have taken to resolve the situation. While this may be common sense, this is often the part that is skipped. A good talking point would look something like this:

“Thank you for reaching out to us. We are very sorry to hear about the incident that occurred. We don’t take this lightly, and we assure you that we have the appropriate people looking into this.”

This can be modified to update people once more information is gathered, or even shortened if you need it for Twitter.

10. Depending on the content of the complaint...

If you’re not the only one monitoring, it’s wise to give the rest of the team a heads-up so they know in what stage of the game the complaint is. The first response shouldn’t sound the same as a second response, and so forth. It will be extra infuriating for someone to have to re-explain their situation.

Coming from those who are currently monitoring social media customer service for a Fortune 500 company, know that this advice is not distributed blindly.

The best advice I can give is this: Think about when you had a problem or issue with a company in your own personal experience. What sort of things did you appreciate (or not) about their response time and ability to control the situation? Your business’ customers expect the same standards.

What other questions do you have? Ask us below!