Surviving an Online Crisis: Tips to Prevent Social Media Mistakes

Surviving an Online Crisis

If the phrase “social media mishap” were a listing in the dictionary, chances are you’d find these real-life companies included as definition examples: Amy’s Baking Company, Taco Bell and Epicurious. Whether it’s Facebook posts gone wrong (as in the case of Amy’s Baking Company and Taco Bell) or a Twitter post that received outrage from readers and the press (Epicurious), these companies all landed in the same spot: right in the middle of a huge public backlash after making a social media mistake. While some people believe the saying, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” most small- and medium-size businesses would prefer to stay out of the spotlight when it comes to a bad social media mistake.

So what steps can an SMB take to avoid making social media mistakes that can give them a negative reputation online? Here are some tips to consider.

Think Before You Post

While no SMB wants to be the recipient of negative comments on social media, there’s one simple way you can help prevent this: think before you post. In the case of Amy’s Baking Company, the company’s owners started to receive media attention in 2010 after responding negatively to a review about their restaurant on Yelp. But that was just the beginning. Recently, it was reported that they posted insulting comments about their detractors on the company’s own Facebook page. The couple later claimed someone unknown to them hacked into their Facebook account and posted the insults. No matter who posted the disparaging remarks, a key take-away can still be learned: never post rude comments or become overly defensive to the point of insulting on your social media pages. Doing so is one of the quickest ways to land in the middle of a social media nightmare.

If you find yourself upset by negative comments on your social media pages and you want to write a response, ensure your emotions are not running high when you do so. If you’re unsure of how your response sounds, have a trusted friend or business associate read it before posting. However, if you think a comment on your page is unrelated to your business or made by a troll, it is perfectly acceptable to report and remove any comments that you consider profane, threatening, or make you feel unsafe. However, if someone posts a comment that falls in the “legitimate complaint” category, resist the urge to delete it. Deleting negative comments can lead to backlash from your fans.

Have a Social Media Policy

In the case of Taco Bell, an employee was fired after posting a photo to his personal social media page that showed him licking a stack of taco shells. Taco Bell investigated and determined that the shells were never served to the public and that the image was a rejected photo taken for an internal company contest. Nevertheless, the damage was done on social media after the photo went viral. The employee was later fired for violating the company’s social media policy. The lesson here? Ensure you have a social media policy in place and that employees understand the policy, including consequences for violations.

Be Careful When “Newsjacking”

The practice of “newsjacking” entails tying your product or service to a well-known national or international news story as a marketing method. WhiIe newsjacking is an acceptable marketing practice, sensitivity to the news story at hand must be thought of before you post. Failing to consider how a story will affect your readers is a surefire way to make a huge social media mistake. Some examples of newsjacking and the public outrage that ensued afterward on social media include American Outfitters and Epicurious, both of whom tied their online marketing to national tragedies.

But, If a tragedy occurs and your company has decided to help in the aftermath in legitimate ways, such as by fundraising, collecting food, holding a blood drive, or more, promoting those activities on social media is a great way to demonstrate your community involvement and company culture.

Stay Alert

By setting up a notification system like Google Alerts, you can monitor what is being said about you and your business online.  You should also make sure to frequently check your social media pages for mentions and tags of your business name to fully monitor your online reputation. Knowing what your customers are saying about you and your company enables you to take the necessary steps to resolve any legitimate complaints before they get out of control. By being proactive in complaint resolution, you’re not only providing excellent service to your customers, but you’re also helping to prevent those complaints from spreading and growing on social media.

Are you taking active measures to prevent potentially detrimental social media mistakes? Let us know in the comments section!

Amy Neeley helps small- and medium-size businesses navigate the online marketing world with insights and information featured on the ReachLocal blog. Connect with her on Twitter.


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Amy Neeley

Amy enjoys helping small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) navigate the online marketing world with tips, trends, and best practices they can use. She has written for Fortune 100 companies, non-profits, and SMBs, and her articles have been featured on sites like Yahoo! Small Business Advisor,, and other industry publications. Amy can often be found walking her dogs, Lola and Marlo, and keeping up with the news via Twitter.

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