Managing Social Media Chatter, Complaints, Conflicts and Crises

Tami Wessley
Posted by Tami Wessley on July 31, 2013

busy_train_stationWhat do Dominos, DKNY, Burger King, Chick-Fil-A, the Red Cross, KitchenAid, Applebee’s and Paula Dean all have in common?

They’ve all had painful social media mishaps. Some of these brands were able to minimize the negative impact by handling their situations quickly and wisely; others will go down in history as "socially awkward."

With social media, you don’t have to be a big brand to have a big blow-up. A little forethought and adherence to four basic guidelines will prepare you to handle the occasional faux pas that may come your way.

Create A Social Media Plan

A social media plan outlines your promotion and engagement protocol, the platforms you’ll be using and even your daily routines. It should also include instructions for dealing with potentially damaging situations. As you're developing that part of the plan, it's wise to anticipate a wide array of possible issues, no matter how off the wall they might seem, and determine how you'll handle each:

  • Identify the types of communications and the response each requires. A customer complaint about your price should be handled much differently than a rumor about product contamination – something that could turn into a full-blown brand reputation crisis
  • Assign people within your organization to handle the situation based on the type of communication. It's easier to maintain a consistent and effective approach if you categorize situations based on their potential "hazard" and have the same people respond to the same types of situations
  • Develop an internal communications plan that puts everyone on the same page regarding the company's position and messaging around things like product performance complaints, missed shipments, quality, etc. You don't want one representative flying solo and promising something the company can't (or won't) deliver on
  • As part of your regular engagement strategy, encourage venting, sharing and conflict discussion by your followers. Many companies are afraid of the occasional negative comment, but giving your followers a way to share their concerns gives you the opportunity to resolve issues and even have your advocates help you out. It also presents you as confident, collaborative and focused on giving customers what they're looking for


Many times, customer service issues are tweeted or posted with the expectation that someone is watching on the other end ready to respond. Because your community is undoubtedly talking, you have to be listening so you can get ahead of the situation before it snowballs. Make sure you have an effective process in place that:

  • Allows easy monitoring of all platforms on a single dashboard
  • Sends alerts triggered by keywords or hashtags signaling potential issues for your company
  • Identifies spikes in engagement – this can be an early warning sign that chatter’s picking up


How you respond to a situation can arguably be more important than the challenge itself. A well-prepared, well-crafted response can actually result in kudos for you and increase your followers – as in the case of Burger King and DKNY. A panicked response can create bad press that'll live on long after memory of the crisis dies. So what should you do?

  • Acknowledge and clarify the specifics of the situation immediately
  • Respond authentically, not automatically
  • Be honest and transparent; admit if there was a mishap and what will be done to rectify the situation
  • Encourage interaction with you, not community at large
  • Respond first on the platform where the communication started/took place. If the flare-up happened on Facebook, respond there first – it won’t help to jump platforms if the conversation and chaos are happening within another audience. After that initial response, go ahead and expand to other outlets if you believe the situation will "spread," develop a dedicated microsite to house your official responses and messages if the situation warrants, and direct anyone interested to that site
  • Encourage company employees to use their own social media accounts to share  information about an incident; make sure their messages are calm and straightforward, not incendiary, and accurately reflect your company's position
  • Don’t delete community comments. Address them fairly and follow up off-line with any individual trouble spots
  • Know when to take it offline – reach out personally. Sometimes people just like to pick fights and nothing you say will dilute their ire. In many cases, a phone call and sincere effort to rectify the situation keeps the situation from becoming out-of-control


Take a breath. The sun will still rise tomorrow and hopefully you’ve handled the situation as well as possible. But now what? It’s important to do a post-mortem to understand what worked, what didn’t and what needs to be changed for future events. A few questions to ask yourself are:

  • What happened, why and was it preventable?
  • What was the resolution and what measures are now in place to keep this from happening again?
  • What was the extent of the spread?
  • Did internal communication flow effectively?
  • Did the plan work as anticipated? If not, why not?
  • What long-term ramifications will need to be dealt with?

You can't entirely avoid social media conflict and the potential it has to cause problems for your brand. But by having a plan, being alert to what's being said, and tackling each issue quickly and appropriately, you'll find that social media engagement is a manageable process that will provide many more positives than negatives.

Social Media Optimization Playbook


Topics: Social Media

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