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8 tips to help businesses survive a social media storm

By Tasha Cunningham

TashaWhen US Airways accidentally sent a tweet that included a pornographic image to a complaining customer last month, the company committed a major Twitter gaffe. When the New York Police Department asked the community to tweet pictures of New Yorkers interacting with police officers using the hashtag #MyNYPD, the department didn’t expect the backlash that ensued. Instead of tweeting positive photos, the public posted images of the New York Police Department enacting the controversial stop-and-frisk policy, Occupy Wall Street protesters being taken down, and officers manhandling citizens on the street.

These debacles illustrate the fact that even major corporations and public agencies aren’t immune to social media blunders. And neither are small businesses. Rebounding from a social media disaster is difficult when you’re doing it on a national stage like U.S. Airways and the New York Police Department. For a small business, a social media faux pas can lead to lost sales, erosion of customer loyalty and loss of credibility.

So what should a small business do when faced with a social media crisis? Here are eight strategies (including a Starting Gate Extra at end) to help you manage and move past it.

1. Don’t panic: As a small business owner, when you’re faced with a crisis, your natural inclination is to panic. Instead, take a deep breath and keep calm. Remember that if you manage the crisis the right way, you will be able to come back from it without a major loss to your business.

2. Don’t delete: If you posted something that has gotten a negative reaction from your followers or fans, you might think that deleting it will make it all go away. It won’t. Instead, it’s going to look like you’re avoiding the consequences of your mistake. When the New York Police Department purged its Twitter page of the less than flattering photos using the #MyNYPD hashtag, it only kept the negative conversation on social media going longer. Resist the urge to delete. There are times, however, when deleting is appropriate, as in the case of US Airways and the tweet that featured a pornographic image. If what you’ve posted has been deemed racially offensive, sexist or pornographic, it is usually better to delete the post than leave it up.

3. Admit it: It’s sometimes hard to find the right way to admit to your customers that you’ve messed up. But taking responsibility, admitting that what you did was wrong and telling the world how you plan to fix something can go a long /way/ in keeping the credibility of the company intact. Take the case of Black Milk Clothing, an Australian clothing brand. When the company posted a meme comparing an attractive woman in their clothing to an actress that was deemed less attractive, their fan base was offended. The company deleted the post and claimed they did nothing wrong. This angered their fans even more and resulted in more backlash against the company.

4. Apologize: Even if you think your followers and fans overreacted to your post, the best course of action is to apologize. Take a cue from US Airways. The company, upon learning of its mistake, immediately posted an apology and worked directly with the customer who made the original complaint to find a resolution.

5. Determine where you dropped the ball: In order to learn from your mistake, you’ve got to figure out where you went wrong. Review your social media policy and determine what processes weren’t followed. Did someone tweet without getting permission? Was the post vetted by management? If you don’t have a social media policy, there’s no time like the aftermath of a crisis to put one in place to ensure that the mistake your company made doesn’t happen again.


More Ways to Move Past a Social Media Crisis

6. Keep Your Customers Informed – Depending on the level of the crisis, it is worthwhile to create a section of your website that gives up-to-date information. By giving your customers a single point of information that you control, you are able to ensure that accurate information is being disseminated.

7. Don’t Engage in the Negativity – When a crisis hits, your customers may be upset and take out their frustrations on social media. Avoid the temptation to trade insults or negative comments back and forth. Keep the conversation above board and stick to the facts.

8. Don’t Focus on Just Facebook or Twitter – Be sure to monitor other social media networks like Yelp, YouTube and those specific to your industry to find out what others are saying about your small business.

 You can reach Tasha Cunningham on Twitter @MediaPRBranding