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Picture this scenario: you get an email from your manager, letting you know that a complaint (or a picture, or a video) about your organization has gone “viral”.  You check it out, and indeed it is embarrassing… and it is everywhere.  What do you do?

In a previous post, I suggested several things to consider before posting a complaint, but in this situation the shoe is on the other foot and the damage is spiralling out of control.

Here are ten Social Media Damage Control tips:

1) Acknowledge the issue publicly and openly: it is critical to ensure that the story doesn’t morph from a specific complaint to how you are handling the issue.  If it does, the impact of your behavior will linger well after the issue is resolved.

2) Tell your side of the story: sometimes the twitterverse/blogosphere/general public is upset because the facts that are presented are incomplete, or are framed to show you in the worst possible light.  While respecting rules of confidentiality and privacy, adding the facts as you see them to the discussion adds important data points… and empowers those who might advocate on your behalf.

3) Mobilize your allies:  Employees, families, customers, and suppliers all have a stake in your success.  If asked, most would be happy to either chime in on your behalf, or strongly advocate for you.  Mobilizing can be done in two ways:  through the informal posts of individual people, and through a formal “ask” of a few key friends of your organization.  No longer is it exclusively the job of a corporate spokesperson to get the message out.

4) Engage in the conversation:  Use official channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Discussion groups, Blog, etc) to address individual queries, and to actively participate in the conversations that are occuring.

5) Ignore:  There is always a risk that your reaction – however small – will instead actually inflame the issue further. One possible counter-strategy is to ask one or two allies if they can comment on the offending post, instead of you doing it directly.

6) Redirect:  Issues have a shorter life when other items become more newsworthy.  Creating positive news redirects the general public’s attention to something that contradicts the underlying assertions made by the complainer.  A great example of this (although executed quite clumsily) was Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to redirect attention away from the movie The Social Network, where he was portrayed in a less than flattering light.  Zuckerberg made a donation of $100 million to the Newark NJ public education system, at precisely the same time the movie was released.  Was the strategy successful?  As one part of a larger overall strategy, it played it’s part. But expensive!

7) Enforce terms of service:  Some online behaviors may be contrary to the terms of service of the particular Social Media venue.  A complaint  to the venue may spur them into action, removing the offending item – and thereby removing some of the issue’s viral “fuel”.

8) Legal action:  When the issue crosses the line into the area of slander, libel, trademark infringement, or some other cause, legal action – or threatening it – can provide some relief.  On the other hand, people may harbor even greater suspicions about you, as you were unable or unwilling to debate or address the issue in the open.

9) Solve the problem beforehand:  Many crises go viral because of a service gap, product malfunction, or the insensitivity of an employee to a customer’s feelings.  Avoid viral crises by preventing them from happening in the first place: improve your service quality, improve your product quality, and improve the customer experience.

10) Monitor:  Use tools to monitor the social web for relevant posts and user sentiment, so that you can quickly address issues as they appear.  Without monitoring, you may think the problem is solved, but the “virus” merely moved to another social media venue.

This week’s action plan:  What would you do if you got that phone call today:  a major Social Media crisis has just sprung up, and you had to deal with it and fast.  This week, put together a Social Media crisis plan: based on several disaster scenarios, how would you react?  What would you (or others) do first?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig


Crisis Communicator

by Randall Craig on December 1, 2010

Filed in: Blog, Communication, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Social Media, Strategy

Tagged as: , , ,

When someone sends a nastygram directly to you via email, it’s easy to deal with them directly: there’s just one person. But in the Social Media world, that nastygram gets broadcast everywhere. And when others start repeating, retweeting, and adding to the message, the problem escalates further.

Many organizations – and many individuals – have jumped on the Social Media bandwagon, but are woefully unprepared when something goes wrong. Are you?

Pre-empt: If you know that there is a problem, it is fairly certain that people will find out about it. By announcing and addressing it beforehand, you appear pro-active and customer-focused.

Ignore: This is the strategy that most organizations use, merely because they are ignorant of the conversations currently underway. After you have a monitoring process in place, then you can make an appropriate decision to ignore. The rationale for ignoring an issue is simple: why pour fuel on the fire? The troublemaker is likely hoping to make your response as much “the story” as the original issue.

Engage: In this strategy, you seek to open the conversation with the troublemaker and the wider social media community. While you may not be empowered to fix the situation, you may be able to demonstrate reasonableness, compassion, and understanding. Done properly, you will not only diffuse the situation, but also learn something important that can be fed back into your organization’s product development or service delivery processes.

Fight: Fighting can happen through aggressive engagement (the “flame war”), or it can happen through legal channels (eg threats), or it can happen by invoking the Social Media venue’s terms of service. The problem with the Fight strategy is that your Fight can quickly become the story, particularly if it fits the David and Goliath “insensitive big corporation” narrative. We recommend that this strategy only be used once the troublemaker crosses a line (eg libel), or other crisis techniques have proven unsatisfactory.

Solicit Support: You don’t need to do anything alone! Whenever a contentious issue arises, reach out to your supporters: generically through a tool such as Twitter, or directly by picking up the phone/writing an email. Your goal with this strategy is to ask your engaged community to advocate on your behalf. A third party endorsement (or rebuttal) is more powerful than anything that you can say yourself.

Of course, there are a number of other issues, including choosing a spokesperson, coordination with off-web messaging, etc, but these overall crisis strategies are a great way to frame your response.

This week’s action plan: While there may not be a crisis this week, becoming a crisis communicator happens well before the problem starts. In addition to the above five strategies, here is a sixth: create a crisis plan, so that when it eventually hits, you ‘ll be ready.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)


Alternative options

by Randall Craig August 12, 2009

At any point in your life, have you ever found yourself backed into a corner, uncertain how you were going to proceed? It may have been a tough client, a project gone awry, a personal relationship gone sour, or maybe a financial crisis. When this happens, there are a number of common responses, some helpful, […]

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