Digital ER – How to Triage, Treat, and Discharge Social Media Crises

Posted by Mikki Ware on October 14, 2014


If you break your leg, you know what to do – call 911 or head to the nearest Emergency Room. In the digital world, social media emergencies are more difficult to diagnose. What even constitutes a social media emergency? Who deals with it? What should response time be? Here are the most critical social media crises, and the 911 on how to handle them.

Case #1: Negative Feedback Attack

The owners of Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, AZ were featured on the reality show “Kitchen Nightmares.” Evidence of questionable business practices were uncovered during the show, which prompted negative backlash on Reddit. The owners responded on their Facebook page with insults and coarse language, exacerbated the situation and brought on even more attacks. The posts have since been deleted, and the owners allege that the account was hacked.

Negative Feedback Attack 911 – The only thing worse than not publicly responding to negative feedback on social media, is publicly responding in an inappropriate fashion. If you have made a gaffe, no matter what the circumstances, you should immediately:

  • Own the error. Whether your account was hacked, an employee went rogue, or it was an honest mistake, let people know you acknowledge it, and that you are taking steps to rectify it.
  • Stop feeding the trolls. The longer you engage in negative correspondence, the worse it will get – for you. When necessary, discuss further details with affected parties (a disgruntled customer or client) offline with an email or phone call.
  • Post an update – Don’t keep dragging out the dirty laundry, but a simple update on how the matter was resolved validates your commitment to transparency. It also provides an excellent opportunity for a formerly disgruntled customer to become an advocate. Any matter involving ongoing litigation or privacy issues should not be discussed.

Case #2: Hashtag Hemorrhaging

Last year, Wall Street bank JP Morgan launched what seemed like an innocuous Tweet chat with the hashtag #AskJPM. The idea was to provide students the opportunity to live chat with one of the banks most senior execs. Unfortunately, the hashtag backfired, and within 6 hours, thousands of negative responses flooded Twitter. The bank responded by cancelling the chat, but the hashtag lives on.

Hashtag Hemorraging 911 – Before launching a hashtag, particularly one asking for customer feedback, do your homework. Two questions to ask are:

  • What are my customers saying? Before launching a hashtag asking for feedback, monitor customer sentiment by searching for brand mentions across all of your social media platforms. If the feedback is overwhelmingly negative, deep six the hashtag and focus on customer service.
  • Is this hashtag trending? Designer Kenneth Cole drew criticism when he tweeted about his spring collection using the hashtag #Cairo, which was being widely used during the Egyptian conflict. While piggybacking on a trending hashtag is a common marketing practice, attaching a promotional message to a tragedy or other sensitive topic is in poor taste and will backfire on your brand.

Case #3: Compliance Complications  

In 2012 Gene Morphis, the former CFO of Francesca’s Collections, revealed sensitive company information on his Twitter account in advance of the company’s annual report to the SEC. It was later revealed that the CFO had often communicated inappropriate company information on social media, which led to his termination from the company.

Compliance Coma 911 – It goes without saying that anyone handling company social media accounts for regulated industries should be well versed in the guidance set forth by the SEC, FINRA, and FFIEC. But what should you do about employee social media use?

  • Provide social media education. Before setting employees loose on social, have your social media professional (whether that’s in house or an agency) conduct a few sessions outlining social media best practices. Most importantly, have one session that outlines the company social media policy, what it means, and potential consequences of social media violations.
  • This includes the C-Suite. Executives are busy people, and may not be completely comfortable with social media. Schedule a session with the brass to make sure they fully understand how to leverage social media from a leadership position.
  • Consider a tool like Gremln for moderation and approval. Words like “board” or “earnings” can be restricted or completely blocked from posts. Or, posts with these words can be sent to an administrator for approval before going live.

Case #4 – Access Anxiety

In January 2013, entertainment company HMV’s mass layoffs were chronicled on Twitter by an intern who had access to the company account. Messages detailing the layoffs were sent to the companys 70,000 followers before the marketing director managed to regain control of the situation, but the damage had been done.

Access Anxiety 911 – Controlling access to corporate accounts is crucial in controlling your brand messaging. A few ways to mitigate the risk are:

  • Provide restricted access.Give your team members roles which various levels of permissions to your social media accounts without providing user names and passwords. TIP: This can be done with Gremln’s Team Management tools
  • Change passwords on your social media accounts regularly – every 3 months, or immediately following the dismissal or resignation of an employee with access.
  • Consider a single sign-on managed by your IT department. That way access can be granted or revoked across multiple platforms at once.
  • Do not allow unauthorized employees or departments to create social media accounts under the company name. If you find an unofficial pages or accounts, either delete them or try to acquire them.

Case #5: Fully Recovered

In April, 3-year-old Victoria Wilcher suffered injuries after being attacked and mauled by three pit bulls in her grandfather’s mobile home. The injuries caused damage to her eye, face, and jaw, which had to be reconstructed. The social media firestorm began when the family posted a picture of Victoria with the text “Does This Face Look Scary To You?” on Facebook. They alleged that, while sitting in a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, a worker asked them to leave because the child’s face was disrupting the other customers. The story went viral, and outraged people began hammering KFC on social media. KFC responded by publicly apologizing, responding in a professional manner to the criticism, and even giving the family $30,000 toward Victoria’s medical bills.

Preventative Care

There are a few preventative measures you can take to avoid landing in the Digtial ER, such as:

1)      Hire a professional. Make no mistake – Social media for business is not child’s play. Of course everyone makes mistakes, and the lightening fast pace of social media can blow one error of judgment into global humiliation in minutes. Mitigate this risk by hiring an experienced social media professional to manage your strategy. How do you know they’re professional?

  1. They have active, up to date social media accounts
  2. They can name engagement metrics, not just number of page likes
  3. They squirm uncomfortably when you mention multiple Facebook pages owned by people who may or may not still be with your company – and make fixing this their first order of business.
  4. They tell you which networks you should continue to use – and which ones aren’t germane to your bottom line.

2)      Restrict access – Gremln allows administrators to control who has access to your social network accounts, and moderation functionality that sends questionable posts for approval before making them live.

3)      Restrict keywords – Using Gremln’s keyword and phrase filtering to restrict or block certain words from being used in posts.

4)      Have a rock solid social media policy – make it clear that employees should not post on behalf of the company, and that personal accounts should include disclaimers like “Tweets are my own” or other identifying verbiage.

Part of your social media policy should be Response Guidelines. This should include direction on how employees should (or should not) react to feedback on social media, and identify the chain of command in case of a crisis.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or, in the case of social media for regulated industries, an ounce of prevention is worth thousands in fines and legal fees. Hiring the right team and creating clear policies and procedures will keep your social media strategy healthy indefinitely. Interested in more tips and tricks to avoid social media crises? Subscribe to our blog!



Topics: compliance, Compliance, social media, Social Media, social media compliance, social media for banking, Social Media for Banking, social media for business, tips

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