5 Things Not to do in a Social Media Crisis

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I didn't think there was a single marketer on the planet who hadn't taken seriously the viral effect that being unresponsive in social media can have--a painful reminder exemplified by United Airlines and Dominos Pizza. When an angry and creative customer took to social media because of a broken guitar and raunchy employees uploaded videos of themselves doing disgusting things to a sandwich, the lack of response was worse than no response at all.

I didn't think there was a single marketer on the planet who hadn't taken seriously the viral effect that being unresponsive in social media can have--a painful reminder exemplified by United Airlines and Dominos Pizza. When an angry and creative customer took to social media because of a broken guitar and raunchy employees uploaded videos of themselves doing disgusting things to a sandwich, the lack of response was worse than no response at all.

So it was much to my surprise when I read last week about British Airways' delayed response when an angry British passenger not only took to Twitter to display his disgust at his lost luggage, but actually paid for sponsored Tweets.

After getting nowhere with British Airways' customer service, Hasan Sayed purchased $1,000 worth of promotional tweets to make his disgruntled dispute very public, also establishing a new trend in how to get a company's attention.

Despite the flashy splash Sayed made on Twitter, British Airways didn't respond until about seven hours after he posted the rants, citing that the company only reads and responds to Twitter comments Monday to Friday 0900 and 1700 GMT. This begs the question: How could a world-class organization known for delivering top-notch customer service not respond to social media queries 24/7?

This incident prompted me to put together a list of what NOT to do during a social media crisis.

1. Don't bury your head in the sand. When angry customers turn social channels to cyber-bash your brand, you better answer in real time. These customers with lost luggage and broken guitars are not willing to wait days for a response. Delayed reactions give the perception that companies don't care, which could have cascading consequences for the brand, the stock, and the bottom line.
According to the Times of London, United Breaks Guitars cost United Airlines stockholders $180 million!

2. Don't pick a fight. When resolving a Twitter feud, you must play nice. As much as they try to provoke, you must maintain composure. Respond with wit and tact, and you'll not only avoid a PR disaster, you'll likely increase your following and elicit positive word of mouth.

3. Don't be hindered by policies. Too much procedures for social engagement can eliminate the human element and prevent employees from taking the necessary steps to do what's right. British Airways may only respond in social during certain times, but surely someone from the company must have noticed Sayed's tweets and should have notified customer service to respond. If they were empowered to act in the best interest of customers, employees outside the customer service organization could have responded themselves and encourage the angry passenger to take the conversation offline.

4. Don't Script. These days, Twitter is starting to resemble an automated IVR system. Please avoid sending automated responses to queries that aren't routine. A recent example involved Bank of America's @BofA_Help account, which in July repeatedly responded to a cycle of foreclosure criticism with robotic-sounding, "Please let us know if you need assistance," messages. When an account called @OccupyLA wrote, "You can help by stop stealing people's houses," @BofA_Help responded, "We'd be happy to review your account." This public embarrassment is avoidable if agents are trained and equipped to respond as humans and not always have the automated responses intervene.

5. Don't use social channels as a back door into your service organization. Prevent these tirades from even reaching social media at all! Properly train your service organization, have the tools in place to enable fast and accurate customer service responses, and make your reps available 24/7, and then you likely won't have much use for this list at all.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION