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Clown hysteria and crisis control: How to respond to social media negativity

Social media hysteria is a very real phenomenon and the effect on brands can be damaging. With hysteria about anything from the recent clown appearances to terrorist attacks, it’s no wonder brands are concerned about the potential for negative backlash on social media.

The good news is that in many instances, a brand’s response in a crisis or towards negative feedback can go far in changing people’s perceptions. In fact, it can actually improve a brand’s reputation far beyond it’s previous state.

With the looming threat of terrorism present through the last decade, there has been a rising hysteria in mainstream media channels reflected and often exacerbated by social media. Enter the recent LAX security scare only a couple of months ago. Police received reports of “shots fired,” terminals were evacuated and the airport went into lockdown, the situation becoming the worst security disruption at the airport in three years. People tried to flee the airport and there was even one report of a customer being “trampled”, according to LAX airport. The culprit? An actor, dressed in a Zorro costume, who had been to an audition earlier that day, wielding a plastic sword at the airport. Despite there being no apparent danger, fact turned to fiction when loud noises at the airport were interpreted as “shots fired” on social media, and people spread the news that there was a “shooter” at the airport.

While hysteria can be damaging, negative responses on social media aren’t always a bad thing. Think of it this way: even if feedback is hyped up or untrue, at least your brand is able to see what is being said by consumers. If it is true, then your brand can find a way to correct it and recover before it escalates into media hype or hysteria. It can also be a way of gathering feedback and can even assist in product development and refinement.

Here are some precautionary measures you can take to ensure that you are nipping bad commentary in the bud:

No news is bad news

Always ensure that you don’t just leave negative comments hanging and hope they will disappear. They won’t. As in the case of the LAX airport hysteria, saying nothing leaves people assuming the worst. It can be hard to always respond in a timely fashion, so if you are running your own social media it’s important to have all your notifications turned on and be checking all your pages regularly. If you post something that you know has the potential to cause a reaction; negative or otherwise, make sure that you monitor comments.

The larger your following, the higher the chance that you might have negative responses. Often negative comments come from people who are simply looking for a platform to air their frustrations. These people deserve some kind of response, even if their comments are seemingly unfair or unjustified. Always acknowledge them in some way, and try to keep your tone light and conversational, injecting a positive spin to the conversation where possible (and appropriate).

In saying this, some comments are simply unwarranted- including random attacks that don’t make sense or don’t relate to current post/s, and profanity or spam. These comments can be hidden or deleted. Hiding comments on Facebook means that only you (or your brand), the person who has written it, and their friends, will still see it. To all others, it will be hidden from sight. Remember that you have the right to delete comments from your page that are harmful to your brand. However, be prepared for backlash if you are trying to hide something, or trying to silence someone who is speaking the truth. Beware: sometimes deleting a comment can be more detrimental to your brand than leaving the comment up. This should only be done if the person is being deliberately malicious or obscene.

From public to private

It’s best to try to take the conversation into the private sphere if you can, positioning the issue as being quicker and easier to resolve this way. Encourage the affected customer to call you on a direct line, or private message you.

Better still, private message them and try to resolve the situation in a calm and rational manner. Be understanding of their problems and if your business is at fault, always apologise and offer a solution. If all this had been done, but they continue causing problems, block the user and report them.

Create best practices

It’s important to create best practices for your social media to ensure that posts are accurate, consistent in style and tone, and to ensure that they reflect and respect the community who are viewing them.

It’s important to always respect copyright laws and credit those images and ideas to the relevant people. It’s important to establish ground rules and communicate these to all other employees who will be posting on any of your social media accounts, even on their personal accounts. What may seem like common sense to you might not be so clear-cut to others!

Be well resourced

If you have a large social media following, make sure you have a team ready to service customer enquiries.  Your social media platforms can be an additional outlet for channeling customer enquiries, and it should be resourced appropriately. It’s a great two-way channel.
Most importantly, despite the potential risks, social media shouldn’t be seen as bad publicity waiting to happen. In fact, it can be just as damaging for your brand to avoid social media rather than having a page which has potential to cause conflict.

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