By Vicky Anscombe

If your business has recently started running its own social media sites, then you’ll probably be aware of how much conversation it can generate – and how much fun it can be to connect with your clients, both long-term and new.

You could be forgiven for thinking that very little can go wrong, as it all seems remarkably easy to engage people online and use a relatively small amount of effort to speak to the people that drive your business.

Annoyingly, things can, and potentially will, go wrong with social media business accounts – but all is not lost. By using our handy guide, you can prevent your company making matters worse, and know how to calmly deal with a social media crisis.

  • Limit damage from the word go. Make sure access to your company social media accounts is limited to a handful of people, and that those people understand the appropriate tone for your social media. It goes without saying that there should be no swearing, in-jokes or slang, even if you’re a fairly cutting-edge business.
  • If one of your social media team leaves the company, change all your passwords. This is as much for their benefit as yours, because if suspicious postings are made, the absent team member can’t be blamed for any damaging activity.
  • Make sure that your account is checked several times a day, even on weekends and bank holidays. As far as social media is concerned, nothing is more frightening than logging on on a gloomy, semi-hungover Monday morning to find a ream of angry Twitter messages waiting to be dealt with.
  • Make sure your social media team knows what to do in the event of a crisis – and who to contact if something worse than the ‘usual’ complaints should surface. It’s worth discussing who should draw up an official statement, and who should speak to the press, if they make enquiries.
  • Immediacy is key. People are used to having a fairly quick response on social networking sites, especially on Twitter. If they are kept waiting for two days, they’ll not only lose faith in your Twitter account, they’ll lose faith in you.
  • Don’t panic. If you see that angry customers have been having conversations amongst themselves, and spreading their rage, take a deep breath, and deal with their issues one by one. Keep your tone rational, and apologise. Never doubt the power of saying sorry.
  • Never get angry or sarcastic, even if the plaintiffs aren’t customers of yours and their accusations are completely untrue. ‘I’m sorry you feel that way – thank you for your feedback’ looks far better than ‘Back off, you nasty piece of work, before I set my dog on you’.
  • If your Facebook wall is littered with complaints, resist the urge to delete them. This will only anger the people who wrote them, and prompt them to respond with the prefix ‘Stop deleting my comments’. Never censor, just respond carefully to each complaint and listen to what people have to say.
  • Accept that some people out there may not have a genuine complaint, and may just like a moan. There is nothing that can be done about this – just be polite and take their gripes on the chin. They’ll soon take their attentions elsewhere if you refuse to rise to their criticisms.

It’s not scientifically proven, but there are many success stories that can come out of handling a crisis properly. Many companies have found, much to their surprise, that their most loyal patrons were initially disgruntled customers who had their concerns addressed quickly and politely.

Vicky Anscombe is an Online PR and Social Media Consultant for Norwich-based SEO and Marketing company, Further. In her spare time, Vicky greatly enjoys being thrifty, salads with halloumi, hunting down old singles that probably don’t exist anymore and looking at pictures of cats.

Twitter: @further