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What to Do After a Social Media Disaster

See also: Crisis Communications

The virality of social media has forever changed the nature of public relations. In Mid-February, Uber found itself under siege by thousands of outraged users on social media due to allegations of sexism. The hashtag #DeleteUber began trending. Scenarios like this play out every day.

What would your business do under similar circumstances? What is the correct response? For a small business owner or social media manager, nothing is as alarming as discovering that your business is trending for all of the wrong reasons.

Interacting with customers and potential customers on social media is a double-edged sword. While building relationships online can improve sales and brand awareness, it can also damage your reputation if mishandled. Social media disasters can take many forms. An innocuous misunderstanding, a regrettable tweet from an employee, or any other thoughtless post can damage your brand. These errors can also do serious harm to your bottom line.

After a social media disaster, social media managers should immediately assess the situation and keep the following tips in mind:


Personally Respond

Immediately delete the offending content and post about the error. Quickly and personally admit you’ve made a mistake.

It may sound taxing, but personally responding to complaints sends a clear message that your business is listening and cares about customer concerns. A direct response displays integrity.

A canned response is a no-no. It looks lazy and demonstrates a lack of care. Social media gives businesses an opportunity to engage customers on a personalized level. Personally responding to negative comments is a simple process.

An effective response consists of three parts:

  1. Acknowledge the customer’s concern.
  2. Accept blame for the mistake.
  3. Detail your solution to the problem.

To see how this approach works in action, take a look at DiGiorno’s response to a blunder it made in 2014. In an attempt to reach potential customers, the social media manager decided to make a post using the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed.

Unfortunately, they did not research the context of the hashtag before joining the conversation. The hashtag was intended to raise awareness about domestic abuse. Users viewed the flippant self-promotion as an offensive.

DiGiorno effectively diffused the situation by personally responding to complaints. In these responses, DiGiorno demonstrated consideration, accepted blame, and vowed to make efforts to avoid blunders in the future.

One major consideration when responding is whether you should respond publically or privately.

Choosing the wrong channel of communication can make your business appear to be disrespectful or needlessly secretive, depending on the context. For most errors on social media, it is appropriate to respond publically.

Customer complaints about service or product issues can be handled in private messages. Keep in mind that it is a simple matter for users to share private messages, so it is still imperative to maintain a professional demeanor.


Managing the Aftermath

In the aftermath of a social media faux pas, users will doubtlessly call out your business — many, many times.

Deleting or ignoring these messages can draw further attention to the issue. Hollow apologies or negative replies are unlikely to assuage users. In order to manage the reputation of your business, it is necessary to respond to negative comments in a positive and constructive manner.

If customers continue to express ire, apologize and explain how the situation is being resolved. If false statements are made about your business in the aftermath, provide evidence that contradicts those statements.

Throughout your outreach, maintain a positive demeanor. Respond — don’t simply react.

One exception to this rule: businesses should not respond to negative comments that contain excessive profanity, nonsensical attacks that have no basis in reality, or comments that are clearly spam.

Responding to these types of complaints is unproductive because they are not earnest criticisms; bringing attention to these complaints can only make the business look foolish. Depending on the social media platform, it may be possible to remove such content — or request that it be removed. If certain problematic users repeatedly send such complaints, blocking them is advisable.

A good example of managing the aftermath of a social media crisis can be found in Penn State’s response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Throughout the controversy, Penn State focused on addressing questions and concerns from followers. They encouraged users to express concerns in specified posts, partially containing the problem. The social media manager kept all channels of communication open, preventing the vitriol from escalating. When extremely abusive comments were left on their Facebook page, they removed them. Through these efforts, Penn State was able to manage its reputation throughout the affair.


Prevent it from Reoccurring

Finally, steps must be taken to minimize the chances of a blunder happening again in the future.

After identifying the individuals responsible for the error, appropriate retraining or disciplinary actions should be enacted. The social media manager should inform followers that the situation is being handled internally. It is inappropriate to publicly name the person or group responsible for the gaffe. Furthermore, mudslinging only attracts more attention to the matter.

A great way to prevent future social media mistakes is to establish a business social media policy. Some guidelines that would be wise to include are prohibiting employees from disparaging the business or from sharing confidential company information. For those looking to draft a set of social media employee guidelines, many real-world examples can be found here.


Oscar Wilde once famously wrote that “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

Social media managers have clearly taken this sentiment to heart; more businesses are engaging users on social media than ever before. This development is spurred on by technological innovations like customer relationship management tools and social media automation. After a social media disaster, however, a personal touch is required.

In an era where an increasing number of consumers are letting their voices be heard through their purchases, it is prudent to tread carefully. If your business suffers a social media backlash, it is necessary to address the issue, provide a solution, and prevent it from happening again. With proper management, these mistakes can be overcome.

About the Author


Devin Morrissey

This article was contributed by Devin Morrissey. Devin is a freelance writer from Daly City, CA. He writes about small business marketing and SEO.

On his downtime, he enjoys experimenting with car modifications and collecting vinyl records. He also enjoys researching and writing about auto history.

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