Social media isn’t just an amazing tool for connecting with potential customers, it’s also rapidly becoming the preferred method of customer service. Consumers love posting questions, praise (and unfortunately complaints) on company social accounts because it’s much easier and faster than traditional methods. This is fantastic when content is positive, but it can also drag issues out into the open that were hidden before the medium existed.
While a few complaints here and there are expected, the real damage is done when an angry mob forms. Trolls can destroy your Facebook or Twitter page by flooding your feed with comments and negative reviews that can be difficult, if not impossible, to contain. If you aren’t familiar with what social media mobs can do, take a look at what happened when Laura Ingraham was targeted with social media backlash:
Facing an Angry Mob
On March 28, Laura Ingraham took to Twitter to provoke Parkland shooting survivor and activist David Hogg after he was rejected by 4 colleges.
Her post was inappropriate on many levels and quickly drew criticism from mainstream media as well as the fury of the internet. Hogg reacted quickly by calling on Ingraham’s advertisers to pull funding from her show.
Soon after, he produced a list of her top 12 advertisers asking his followers to engage with the brands and encourage them to drop Ingraham. The number of likes currently exceeds 125k on his request.
What’s interesting, is Hogg didn’t attack Ingraham directly, he brought 12 high-profile brands into the discussion, effectively forcing them to take a position. Clearly, the tactic worked, and Ingraham apologized for her comments on Twitter.
How to Prevent Social Media Backlash
There’s a long list of things you shouldn’t do on social media if you want to avoid a crisis, but there are also some simple steps you can take to prevent scenarios like the one above.
Trolls often act in response to negative news stories, inappropriate tweets, and even simple mistakes. You can’t always be perfect, but you can take steps to minimize your risk.
Steer clear of controversy
Avoid political debates or hot-button social topics that have a high likelihood of blowing up in your face. This advice applies to both business owners as well as brands because a CEO’s reputation is closely tied to that of the company. When executives take a hard stance on a controversial topic, the brand often suffers. Papa John’s is an excellent example of this in action.
Set up social media alerts
It may be annoying to get every single alert from your social media account, but setting up notifications will keep you in the loop when your brand is mentioned. With active monitoring, you’ll know as soon as something goes wrong so you can take care of the situation.
Address criticism immediately
Resolving an incident swiftly may cause a mob to move on. However, failing to respond will likely draw an even larger crowd, and this could cause the mainstream media to take notice of your issue. Once a crisis has gone viral, it’s much more difficult to contain and recover from.
Don’t delete anything. EVER.
If there’s one “don’t” that makes this list, it’s this one. Removing negative posts is one of the worst things to do when you’re dealing with an angry mob. They want to be heard, and silencing complaints will fan the flames.
Word will spread that you’re deleting comments, and followers will begin posting more frequently. Deleting posts also makes it look like you’re hiding something. Furthermore, it’s easy to take screenshots of posts before they’re deleted, and these can be circulated to news outlets as proof of your attempted cover-up.
Respond Professionally to Criticism
Instead of deleting negative posts, respond thoughtfully. You won’t be able to respond to each complaint if your account is receiving hundreds or thousands of comments about an incident. However, it will make a difference if you demonstrate an effort to communicate honestly and openly. It’s always better to say something rather than nothing — especially when it’s an apology like the one issued by Laura Ingraham.
When replying, do your best to avoid being defensive or playing the blame game. Being accountable will show others that your apology is sincere. It’s important to publicly acknowledge how your action impacted people if you want to diffuse the situation. When it’s appropriate (and it usually is) you should issue an apology.
Share the facts and encourage transparency if the issue hasn’t been resolved. Avoid using corporate language to remind your followers that there are real people behind your brand. If you’ve put your foot in your mouth, it’s ok to admit it. People are much more willing to forgive brands that admit fault quickly, and they tend to lash out when companies downplay the situation. Send a clear message to the public that you recognize what you’ve said is in poor taste and apologize.
Make sure your response stands out when it’s posted. Rather than replying to a long thread, issue a separate response and highlight it, reference it, and pin it to your profile if needed. A quick video can be an excellent way to showcase your humanity and emotion that could otherwise be lost in a written post. It also shows that you took time to properly address the issue rather than hastily typing out 140 characters.
It’s always a good idea to proofread your response with your team because it’s likely to be picked apart for weeks and months. However, your primary goal should still be to reply quickly. Silence can be translated as guilt, and both fans and the media will be clamoring for you to make a statement. So get the details ironed out and make sure there aren’t any grammatical errors but don’t wordsmith the post for weeks.
Ultimately, even if a social media mob goes viral, having a levelheaded response in place will be reported in articles and blog posts discussing the incident and this is likely to positively influence the conversation. You may find supporters backing you up if you are able to respond professionally.
Such was the case with Laura Ingraham’s response. While some criticised her apology as being an appeasement for her advertisers, her community came to her defense and rallied around.
Never Make Fake Social Media Accounts
It’s always a bad idea to open fake social media accounts to voice support for your brand. It’s easy to detect hollow profiles that were started with the sole intention of praising your brand, and you’ll look dishonest if you’re tactic is discovered. Your supporters will back you up if you’ve built a loyal, engaged community and you speak truthfully about what happened.
While it may seem like a far-fetched idea, it’s happened before. Chick-fil-A was accused of using a fake account with the name “Abby Farle” to defend the brand during a controversial toy recall. More recently, Kevin Durant was caught using a fake Twitter account to defend himself on Twitter.
Whether or not these accusations are true, creating new accounts to make comments that defend or support your brand could potentially blow up in your face. It highlights your guilt and suggests that you may have something to hide or can’t find legitimate supporters.
Block Trolls (Not Followers)
It’s clearly important to respond to legitimate comments and complaints and, of course, avoid deleting any responses. However, there’s another set of rules for dealing with users who have no interest in an actual conversation.
These users are known as “trolls,” and they often post profanity, vulgar images, or comments designed to spark outrage. Their posts usually don’t make sense and rarely have any point beyond attacking your brand or your supporters. When the trolls discover your page, they’ll pile on and make a bad situation much worse by filling your entire feed with inappropriate content. While it’s almost never a good idea to delete posts from your page, this is the one situation that merits moderations. At a minimum, you should take the high road and avoid responding to them. There is no reasoning with a troll, as their sole intent is to create chaos and flame hate.
Keep Calm and Carry On
Above all, remember that although a social media crisis may bring an angry mob, eventually, it will pass. Trolls lose interest quickly and the mob will move on in a few days or weeks. The faster you can resolve the situation the better. But don’t move so quickly that you make mistakes that could worsen the situation.
Once the situation has been resolved, you may have some cleanup to do in your branded search results. Google tends to favor trending topics as well as subjects that have been connected through repetition, so don’t be surprised if you find unflattering content. Monitor your business reputation regularly and set up alerts to make sure there are no lingering negative articles discussing the crisis. Ideally, you’ll want your profiles and positive press about your business to be showcased in your search results.