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How to avoid a negative social media snowball


A public relations nightmare can happen to any business – and when it explodes in the realm of social media, the ripple of reactions can expand incredibly fast, attracting an uncomfortable amount of attention.

In the worst cases, it can become a viral event, crossing regional and national boundaries. Whether manifesting itself as outrage or ridicule, this can cause long-term damage to a brand’s reputation, affecting widespread perceptions and even future sales.

However, while these situations are often sudden and seem uncontrollable, proper preparation can go a long way towards minimising the impact and helping your brand survive with dignity.

These are our top tips for avoiding an avalanche of bad feeling:


Does your social media community management team know how to spot trouble brewing? Multiple comments about the same issue or sharing activity around a particular comment or image can often represent a big red warning sign.

What’s the chain of command for making decisions about public statements? Make sure you have a crisis escalation procedure in place, from your social media monitors right up to the CEO.

Imagine some worst-case scenarios for your particular business, especially if there are already areas in which you feel vulnerable. Draft appropriate responses and get them approved by key stakeholders, so you’re ready to use them when you need to.


You can invest in special listening software to discover how your brand is being discussed online and react appropriately – but it’s only worth having if the operator is a skilled social media strategist. Whether in-house or outsourced, make sure you have the right people in the right roles.

Once you’ve got the software and staff, you need to decide:

What you’re listening for – Brand names, product names, keywords

Where you’re listening – Which social channels? And don’t forget that sometimes your audience hangs out in places where you don’t yet have an official presence (Instagram is commonly overlooked in favour of Twitter).

When you’re listening – Social media doesn’t stop at 5pm. People shop, eat and drink during evenings and weekends, so make sure you’re not missing important online conversations.

A cautionary tale: In 2009, pizza brand Dominos failed to explain via Twitter how the company was dealing with two employees who filmed a poor-taste video prank, meaning many questions from customers went unanswered and frustration quickly mounted.


In your response, you must consider carefully the tone and style of your reaction:

If something is your fault, be honest. Admit the blame and explain what you’re doing to fix the problem

Be human. If people have been upset, show empathy and concern – don’t just paste template statements. And if the situation allows for it, don’t be afraid to use some humour. Self-deprecation and wit can help you out of an awkward hole.

Mobile network O2 handled a difficult situation with aplomb in 2012, chatting informally with users on Twitter to keep them up to date while a service outage was being fixed. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with complaints turning into friendly banter.

Think about how people will receive and interact with your response:

Never delete comments or tweets in an attempt to hide a problem (unless they break guidelines with abusive language or personal details). An angry or upset user will come back twice as hard and publicly accuse you of a cover-up.

However, you can subtly hide comments from wider audiences while you investigate (so that only the user and their friends can see their post, for example) and send detailed responses via private message, as this can shift a debate from public view.

Create a microsite or web page to summarise the crisis, so you can direct people on social channels to the same point of explanation and control the conversation to some degree. This may also save you valuable time and resources.

And finally, make use of the experience to LEARN. When the storm has passed, don’t just sit back with relief and hope it never happens again. Analyse how you dealt with it and determine what you could do better next time. Were there any gaps in your planning? Did anything backfire or antagonise the situation?

If you’re concerned about any of the issues above, our dedicated community management team can offer advice and support. We can also develop a flexible, cost-effective framework tailored for your business, including round-the-clock monitoring.

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