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Five Fast Steps for Reversing a Social Media PR Crisis

Clients in three different industries were getting pilloried in social media for various customer service transgressions. The largest firm monitored conversations by the minute, day and night. A smaller organization monitored throughout the day. The smallest used news trackers and other alert services and viewed them randomly, with occasional forays during the day into the different social media outlets.

Experiences with all three clients and reviewing best practices from PRSA and others led to creating a simple five-step process as a starting point for responding. Of course, the complexity and severity of each complaint will drive additional creative and strategic approaches. The steps are thought-starters and assume a high degree of integrity and solid core values within the organization:

  • Apologize as soon as possible. (“We are sorry to hear you have had a problem. We would like to help in any way we can.”) For timing, responding immediately is best; within an hour is fine; a few hours is okay; waiting a day doesn’t help the reputation and could lead to the negative cacophony building.
  • Identify the specifics of the complaint if it is not covered in the social media or other posting. (“Can you please send the details to XYZ? [Give a person’s name and email address.] XYZ will take care of this as soon as possible.”)
  • If the details of the complaint are on the social media site, along with negative comments from friends and followers, provide a partial answer online and also try to connect directly. (“Again, we’re sorry about your problem. For next steps, we would like to help you with A, B and C. Please contact XYZ who will work on this personally.”) This shows progress and a commitment to a solution.
  • Take immediate action on solving the problem. Provide updates if needed. (“Quick update: we should have an answer in the next two hours.”)
  • When the problem has been solved, post a quick summary of your success story. (“XYZ reports that your problem has been solved. We’re sorry you had this experience – a very rare occurrence for any ‘Company Name’ customer. We are using this to see how we can continue improving internally. If you have any other thoughts, please send them to XYZ, your personal contact here, and we will follow up. Thank you!”)

The language will vary according to the personality and culture of the company.

Gable PR worked with one fast-crowing financial services company where social media complaints began rising faster than historic trends. Most related to newer offices or acquisitions, which were still working to align with the company’s well-honed and personal approach to customer service. The company moved quickly through the social media steps outlined above. It solved most problems and gained new fans while showing off its great culture through social media. Gable PR also started increasing the number of positive news stories, blogs, Facebook posts and Twitter conversations and links to quality news coverage and testimonials, which helped better content to rise higher in online searches.

The negative noise on Facebook and Twitter soon faded to isolated whispers, fitting a phenomenon we covered previously on the Half Life of a Tweet.

Similar approaches have worked for consumer companies big and small. Microsoft used an aggressive social media response program to turn around its image from being an insensitive monolith with no interest in helping the consumer. Microsoft bloggers and individuals on social media listened aggressively and responded to complaints in a human voice. With time, the company went from being one of the least admired companies in the country to rising on the most admired ranks, something every organization hopes to achieve.

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