It seemed so innocent. A casual comment on Twitter from your business account that you didn’t think about twice.
With social media gaffes, the reaction can often be swift and overwhelmingly negative.
Don’t worry, some of the biggest and best-known brands have made howlers on social media and they’re still in business. It’s surprisingly common. While nobody plans to make a social media blunder, what matters is how you manage the fallout. The good news is you can make amends and, when done properly, you might even turn it into an opportunity.
According to social media consultant Anna Cairo, most businesses mishandle the recovery process after a social media gaffe and end up causing more damage than the incident itself.
“It’s important to have a risk management plan because then you’ll be prepared and know exactly what you’re going to do,” she says.
In the event of negative comments, inappropriate posts or any other kind of social media disaster, the following actions are good first steps to ensure you minimise damage to business’s brand.
Respond quickly and effectively
Don't let the story get away from you. If a mistake has been made and there are people pointing it out to you, the sooner you can act, the sooner you can take ownership of the problem.
"The response needs to be immediate,” Cairo says.
Acknowledge, accept responsibility and apologise – in public
“Businesses feel that if they apologise they’re admitting a mistake and that customers will actually think less of them,” she says. “But people will actually think more of you and your business if you own that mistake. And that apology needs to be public, so on the Facebook page or whatever social media platform you’re dealing with.”
“It’s important that the apology is made without any PR spin and that it’s completely genuine,” Cairo says. “Businesses panic and get their PR people [to respond] but it’s just so fake and on social media it’s so obvious.”
According to Cairo, if a business handles the situation well, it’s unlikely they’ll lose followers if their reputation is already strong.
“I don’t think a business would lose a lot of followers if it was just a one-off. People are pretty understanding, but if you mishandle it they won’t like that,” Cairo says.
“Yes you’ll get bagged – you’ll just have to cop that – but in the long term your business shouldn’t suffer brand damage.”
A most common mistake businesses make is to ignore the incident altogether or to delete negative posts.
“That actually makes it worse,” she says. “I think it comes down to basic customer service, which a lot of businesses don’t do very well. If you’re a business that gives really good customer service, then there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
For Cairo, successful social media and maintaining a strong brand is about trust and reliability.
“Businesses need to trust customers to write comments on their Facebook page and customers also need to trust businesses that mistakes will happen and that’s just really the way it is,” she says.