A social media crisis almost always is started by a disgruntled customer who went online, perhaps on Twitter, to post his grievances, and his complaints went viral. It’s not a crisis in the traditional sense, but still, you need to prepare in advance and have policies in place to ensure they’re handled properly and to your best advantage.
According to the Institute for Public Relations, there are four different kinds of publics who use social media channels: (1) The people (creators and influencers) who post information about a crisis to inform the stakeholders; (2) the social media followers who consume this information from the creators; (3) People who aren’t active in social media, but get their facts via word of mouth from the people who are; and (4) trolls, who Wikipedia defines as, “people who sow discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.”
Scan your social media channels regularly so you can spot when people are chatting about you. You need to be aware of these conversations so that you can step in to diffuse any negativity early and fix problems. Be aware of the rumors, and try to reverse them if you can, but not on social media. Other channels are better for this: op-ed pieces, your blog, letters to the editor, and if the rumor is particularly damaging, in a press conference.
Don’t get emotional; remain calm. Assess the situation to find the origin of it. Get the facts straight. There are trolls out there who chime in sometimes to stir up discord or spread gossip. People are generally good at spotting trolls, and if you have a good reputation, their nonsense won’t be taken too seriously.
If, however, you sense that a consumer complaint is legitimate, you must fix the problem as soon as possible. Respond with transparency, respect and caring, and take the conversation off line. Never engage in a public battle.