Recovering From A Social Media PR Disaster

Does “covfefe” ring a bell? Yep, I’m talking about that obscure midnight tweet sent by the one and only Donald Trump.

While a typo isn’t that big of a deal on the scale of “things that can go wrong”, it’s a stepping stone towards the downward spiral that is a social media PR disaster.

Sometimes it’s something simple, like sharing a link to that funny cat video you were supposed to send your friend, but somehow managed to broadcast to your entire following network instead. While it may be embarrassing, it’s nothing to stress about; you may look like a klutz, but it won’t reflect negatively on the business you represent.

Other times it’s the thing you should be concerned about, like an inappropriate opinion or insensitive statement, an early release announcement, a false reward post, and a hack. 

Let’s break these down.

In case you need this one spelling out, an inappropriate opinion is when you publicly state or share an opinion that is, you guessed it, inappropriate to your brand. This usually happens accidentally, posting something that should have undergone further scrutiny to avoid a social media blow out.

The insensitive statement, however, is the one you should be concerned about because it reflects the ethos of your brand. An example is Kenneth Cole who tweeted this following the protests in Egypt's Tahrir Square: "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumour is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at -KC." Yep, he used the embattled political affairs of another country as an opportunity for self-promotion.

On the other hand are early release announcements; projects, products, or news briefs that are announced before their approved public airing date. This one’s tricky because it can either be disastrous or simply push your release schedule forward, depending on how prepared you are and any title distribution rights involved (these can get messy).

The next is just plain deceitful and WILL damage your reputation. The false reward is when the body involved offers a prize or deal of some sort that they cannot deliver.

For example, companies in Canada recently got in trouble when they couldn't honour all their deals from a group-buying site. It can also be as simple as accidentally adding an extra zero to a prize amount without noticing until too late.

The hack is both the most dangerous and the easiest to recover from. If someone breaks into your account you can tell your fans what happened, but your security has also been compromised and your accounts could be targeted again.

It’s easy to fall prey to a social media PR disaster, but it doesn’t define you. How you recover, does.

Your path to recovery isn’t a short one, requiring patience and professionalism. These steps should help you along.

1. Assess the situation

First things first, get your facts straight:

a)       Who was impacted?

b)      How many people were involved?

c)       Is the situation under control or is it an ongoing issue?

d)      What is being/has been done in response to the situation?

Take the time to understand the impact of your actions before planning your next move because your next move NEEDS to be based on these considerations. Social media PR disaster recovery isn’t “one-size fits all” so ensure you tailor your plan to your circumstances.

2. Own up

Simply put, honesty is the best policy. Face the facts, own up to your mistakes, and express regret. Your fans will appreciate the humility and an apology can go a long way so long as they feel you’re genuine. It reminds them that you’re human and out of anything that’s something they will understand.

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to be so forgiving. You need to be prepared for the negative attacks and personal insults, but the most important thing is to stay cool and take an empathetic approach; you’re looking to resolve the tension, not to win the argument. Avoid any defensive tone and show that you’re on their side. Professionalism is key and don’t forget that customer service is the new marketing.

3. Stay out front

Right now your business or brand is in damage control and a key part of that means acknowledging negative feedback. Monitor all news and social media updates concerning your company to keep on top of the publicity and address each issue. Lead the conversation, be empathetic with your commentators, and stay ahead of the game. Personalisation will work in your favour, with responses tailored to each individual who raises a concern. Response personally to negative commentary, but ensure you remain professional and considerate at all times. Last, but not least, stay topical – you don’t want the conversation to take another course, and ensure you are working towards a solution. Your fans want to feel valued so take the time to demonstrate that they are.

4. Always work towards a resolution

Now that your misdemeanour has been publicly acknowledged, it is time to offer a tangible solution. Depending on what the mistake is, compensation may be a viable option. Perhaps offer discounted entry to your next gig or donate money to a relevant cause (if topical). A more interactive approach would be to poll your followers to see what kind of follow up they would like to see. In the case of a false reward, full compensation is required, either in the form of a refund or future discount. In the case of an early release announcement, either push your release schedule forward or admit that it was a clerical error and attempt to control the fallout. Yes, your fans will be disappointed, but they will also understand that great work cannot be rushed. You may face further issues if title rights are involved with a secondary party, but that will be your lawyer’s concern, although public transparency is advised (within legal advice). In the case of a hack, let the public know that you are taking steps to prevent this from happening in future (as you should). 

5. Over-communicate and always follow up

Now is the time to regroup and rebuild. Focus on rebuilding trust and credibility, which is best done by communicating with your followers; updating them of the state of affairs, mainly the steps taken to resolve the issue and prevent it from happening again. This is where you step up to the plate and show that you can adapt to difficult circumstances. Be transparent and keep your followers in the loop. It helps them to feel like they are a part of the resolution process and are valued by your brand. No fan or consumer wants to feel like they are disposable.   

These five steps should have you covered, but here are a few tips for the road:

  • Establish a history of excellence and professionalism.

  • Before you use a hashtag, check the context.

  • Never use tragedy as an excuse for self-promotion.

  • Always double check your social media content before posting/sharing.

  • Create a social media management plan that considers the possibility of negative backlash.

Last, but not least: LISTEN TO YOUR PR ADVISOR!

Words by Amy Walsh