Damage Control: What Not To Do When Your Social Media Goes Wrong


Image by Craig Loftus

There are all kinds of ways social media can go wrong. Merely provoking controversy can cause a social media backlash – as Simon Pegg discovered when he raised a contentious point about the word disabled recently.

Managing your social media conscientiously and professionally is the best way to maintain steady, measurable audience development and progression.

But what if something outside your control goes wrong?

Here are four things not to do if you want to manage a successful damage control campaign.

1. Don’t Complain About The Insults
If you’ve made a mistake, it doesn’t matter if you feel victimised. The public does not see you as the victim.

Remember how people like Tony Hayward and Chris Brown looked after they started complaining about how they were feeling?


People want you to be hurting right now. As a competent social media manager it’s your job to accept it with good grace, correct any errors of fact, and be polite to even your most vicious detractors.

It’s hard, but that’s why it’s a job.

2. Don’t Ignore The Comments
This is a great chance to show that you are actively listening to criticism and taking it on board. People do not like to be ignored, and showing that you’re listening and genuinely interested in what critics have to say can soften the first waves of attack.

If a particular critic made a remark you feel was particularly insightful, and especially if it was quite constructive, try referring your other less constructive critics to it, and asking them what they think about it.

Refer your most intelligent and amiable supporters and detractors to each other so that a dialogue can be established. Interject with neutral comments here and there to show that you’re present and taking things on board.

Not only will this create more of a sense that a compromise can be reached by showing that you’re listening, but it should end up showing you some ways that your company should (in the public’s view) be proceeding on the matter.

3. Don’t Argue With Activists
Even if you’re sure that you are one hundred percent correct, you simply cannot argue with activists.

At best, you will be technically right but look like the bad guy to anyone who sympathises with the activists’ cause. By making the engagement a debate, you’ve also brought the issue to the attention of a much wider audience.

Most likely, you will lose the argument. It almost doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, you are on their home turf. These are people who have dedicated most of their lives to arguing about this issue, and they have a lot of practice.

Because social media is increasingly used as a metric in performance SEO to determine relevance, creating a lot of chatter could impact how you rank in search engines, too – for instance, negative news stories could start to outrank your main site!

4. Don’t Appeal To Popularity
Over the years, we’ve seen various forms of the appeal to popularity. PR professionals like Paul Christoforo have claimed deep insider connections, while United Airlines have acted like one customer’s complaints are immaterial, given their huge customer base.

Unfortunately for both of these guys, popularity is a dangerous and fickle thing on the internet.

Say you’re running an eCommerce’s Twitter account with 200,000 followers, and have been pitted against a disabled rights activist with 600 followers – who do you suppose has more true fans?

What about the same eCommerce account pitted against a disgruntled customer with 40 followers?

Because the “like” button on most social media accounts can mean anything from “Awesome!” to “Satisfactory”, while the “share” and “follow” buttons can be used by people who actively dislike your message, they are poor metrics for determining who is most popular.

In fact, in terms of fans actively supporting their cause, the average customer is likely to outweigh you at least 2 to 1.

Besides which, trying to point to the popularity of your message is just a bad way of arguing. It makes you look petty, uneducated and worst of all, like a bully. Just don’t.

So What Do You Do?
It’s actually very simple. With damage control, most of the work has been taken out of your hands.

The best points will be made by other interested parties on each side, meaning that all you have to do is listen, engage, and don’t try to go too far too fast. Arrogance is the killer, be humble, be patient, and act wise even if you’re not!

Follow this advice and you should at least avoid making the situation worse…

Attached Images:
  •  License: Creative Commons image source

James Duval writes about marketing for Strategy Internet Marketing, who are a digital marketing agency with a focus on SEO, CRO, online PR and social media solutions.

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