Social Media

7 Lessons You Can Learn from My Social Media Nightmare

the screamDo you have a social media disaster prevention plan for your business?

I recently sat at the front lines with a consulting client who underwent a potential nightmare through social media. I’d love to share the lessons learned because it could easily happen to you.

Ready? Let’s get started:


Lesson 1: Always be listening

If you haven’t realized by now, social media has a life of its own — and it never sleeps. It’s alive with messages flowing through its networks, 24/7. If your business is jumping in (and you should, don’t let me scare you) you need to go all in!

First and foremost, this means you need to listen consistently.

Repeat after me: ABL!

  1. Always.
  2. Be.
  3. Listening. 

Even if you’re not posting on a regular basis, always be listening. Think of it as keeping your ear to the rail to hear for trains coming down the tracks. The conversations about your business reflect the your opportunities for better online presence and wellness.

Here’s where things first went off track:

The first major blunder occurred when one weekend my client missed a complaint thread growing on Facebook — and these things grow like weeds! Come Monday it had 10 separate complaints posted, each loaded with likes and replies from other fans.

To make matters worse, a major gripe was that no one from my company was responding – despite the fact it was Sunday! Missing even one day can create a snowball effect that could have been avoided.

There is so much you can learn from your customers, and so much to lose from not paying attention. The simplest issue can be a spark in a nitroglycerine plant on social media.

How do you avoid such a crisis?

Technology, babe! Great social media monitoring technologies are out there and many of them are FREE! A favorite tool of mine is Hootsuite [not a paid mention], where you can view your social media accounts together, plus keep tabs on keywords that are important to your business.

Also, be sure your smartphone is set to alert you when your social media accounts have activity so you can stay connected on weekends. Always be listening.

Lesson 2: Unify your front

I know it sounds like a war plan, but when you’re in the daily trenches of sales and marketing you have to coordinate your troops. As you may know, all your departments can be working toward the same goal yet be completely out of sync. This can trigger a major social media fail.

Take, for example, the dozens of complaints we received about a flash sale posted on Facebook and Twitter that offered a better deal than the mailer sent to our loyal repeat customers. The flash sale originated from the marketing department while the mailer came from the sales team.

Your sales, marketing and customer service teams are all stakeholders in your social media plan. All stakeholders must communicate and be fully invested in the program.

Do this: Establish a comprehensive promotional calendar with input from all your stakeholders. This allows you to schedule seasonal and weekly deals and spot conflicts before they go public.

Be extra sure to communicate with your customer service team, which is often the last to learn about daily and last-minute changes. Many upset customers go online to vent after their needs weren’t met by customer service.

Lesson 3: Speak the same language

Most businesses have a list of guidelines that describe their brand identity. Keywords you use, phrases you avoid and a general tone you present yourself with to customers. This is your voice.

Your social media approach should have a similar set of guidelines, which should include:

  • How you respond to inquiries
  • First-response messaging to common customer issues
  • Key steps to take when customer complaints occur

Having a set language is an important part of your social media process, both in sales and in customer service.

My client’s issue was compounded when different responses came from different account managers. Imagine the storm of outrage when one customer was offered a refund while others were recited standard company policy. Don’t let this happen.

Rule out this problem by limiting the keys to your castle. Carefully dole out passwords and limit the number of users with permission to post on your social media. That’s only sure-fire way to maintain control of your accounts. This also eliminates the possibility of rogue posts from disgruntled employees, but more so it ensures your social media accounts have a unified message.

A final note about language: be sure your messages aren’t cookie cutter. Be consistent but don’t sound too mechanical because your customers will think they’re talking to a robot. Add a little personality and compassion in all your messages.

Lesson 4: Begin with an apology

Social media nightmares are usually won and lost by your first response. Always begin with a conciliatory tone that shows you care about your people. This tip is standard practice customer service, but it’s often overlooked these days due to the informal nature of social media.

Look at it this way: You are in business to help people, make life better, and any time someone is having a frustrating experience you are failing in some form or another.

Say something along the lines of: “I’m sorry for your issue. I hope I can help ease your frustration.”

Even if it’s not directly your fault, there can be a small communication gap that needs to be filled. No, the customer isn’t always right but saying sorry always softens the tone. It shows a human side and tells them you want to relate.

Remember though, not everyone is being totally honest so have your information clear before you go offering any refunds or promises.

Lesson 5: Take it private

As soon as possible take steps to move the conversation off the public forum. You don’t want to invite the trolls to comment on your words, especially if you don’t have an immediate solution.

Getting the conversation offline will diffuse the situation dramatically.

I spent a week telling customers on Facebook to email me their names and numbers, and it grew to a point where new customers to the conversation were emailing me complaints instead of posting to Facebook. That’s a PR win!

Even if you don’t have an immediate answer have the customer contact you via email or phone. Ask for their email address, phone number and order number. This will publicly show you’re offering personalized attention and it buys you time to look up the order or experience at issue.

Lesson 6: Engage but never fight

Your next crises could be based on a simple, innocuous comment you made in passing. That’s bad. Your social media presence depends on you not being reactive.

Many of the top social media nightmares in recent time have come from mishandled comments and responses. See Home Depot, Epicurious, DiGiornio, an uppity New York hotel, even Apple.

Insults fly fast and quick on social media and you have to take the high road, no matter how bad a day you’re having. It’s not personal after all, you just have to remember that social media can quickly become a feeding frenzy; people will jump in with unrelated gripes and a need to troll. Don’t react emotionally.

The best solution: Stop, don’t hit send. I used to have a 24-hour rule on responding to harsh emails. But with today’s social media fast food mentality I guess the modern version of that is to wait 10 minutes and see if your reaction holds up.

Social media sites allow largely anonymous communications from your customers. That means people can say things they wouldn’t normally say to your face. Combine that with a customer service business environment and you’ll find an environment where people are most passionate and reactive.

Lesson 7: Sleep well at night

Follow the above 6 steps and you’re on your way to a safer social media presence. Having a consistent plan and staying vigilant will allow you to avoid and issues and benefit from the many positive virtues of Social Media marketing. That way, you’ll sleep well at night knowing people are talking nicely about your business.