Earlier this year after the release of the documentary Blackfish, which was highly critical of its treatment of orcas, Sea World launched a social media campaign on Twitter. The theme park genuinely wanted to explain its methods and answer questions. Instead, it experienced what was described as the social media disaster of 2015.
The #AskSeaWorld site was immediately deluged by people accusing Sea World of being an “abusement park” and questioning everything from the chlorine levels in the whale’s pools to intimate details of its breeding program. Most of the tweets were from animal rights activists who now had a platform – provided by Sea World – from which to hurl abuse and accusations.
The campaign showed that social media, when used by businesses, can be fraught with danger. What seems like a nice opportunity to reach out to customers can come back as a slap in the face. So, when should you censor a post or tweet? How should you respond to negative comments? Should you block a troll, or try to reason with them? Here’s how to react when social media backfires on your business.
Stay calm and don’t delete!
One of the worst things you can do when you receive a negative Facebook post is to delete it – especially after it has attracted comments from other people. For example, if you delete a post where a customer is complaining that they waited too long before they were served at your store, you can guarantee that the person will become even more incensed and negative, and will re-post accordingly. Also, anyone who read the post and commented on it will be offended that you deleted their comment too, and begin to suspect your store is not as friendly as they thought.
To avoid damaging your brand, the best way to deal with a negative post is to acknowledge it. Post a response saying you will look into the problem, and ask further questions to show you are interested. Was the store busier than usual? Did the customer feel as if they were being ignored? By showing you care about this one customer, you are showing the other customers reading the dialogue that you care about them too.
Make sure you offer solutions, not excuses
When a customer makes a negative comment on social media, try to imagine that they are standing in front of you. You wouldn’t just walk away, you would listen to their complaint and offer a solution. You might even unearth a problem with your business that you did not know about – such as the staffer on the early morning shift who is being rude or can’t handle the workload. Never assume the negative comment is designed to harm you personally. It’s easy to become paranoid on social media, but remember that this is not about you, it’s about the customer’s experience.
Of course, there are times when it’s clear from the abusive nature of the tweet that someone just doesn’t like your business for some unknown reason. You can delete a Facebook post if it becomes blatantly offensive (racist, encourages hate speech, etc). Although you can’t delete a tweet, you can block people on Twitter so they won’t be able to see your feed or tweet. All this deleting and blocking usually happens when your business has attracted a troll.
Trolls and how to deal with them
Trolls are social media users who thrive on being nasty and provocative. Like the mythical creatures that hid under bridges and ruined the lives of Norse farmers, trolls can ruin a business’s social media presence. After all, your tweets and posts are designed to portray your services and products in a positive light. Trolls want the opposite – they won’t be happy until they have stirred up trouble for you, sometimes just for the fun of it.
So, how to respond? When someone tweeted on a UK supermarket site that the chicken tasted like it had been “beaten to a pulp by Hulk Hogan”, the store responded: “Really sorry it wasn’t up to scratch. We will replace Mr Hogan with Ultimate Warrior on our production line immediately.” It was cheeky, avoided confrontation, and kept all the other customers on side with its humour.
Another tack is to respond factually, as Apple did when its iPhone 6 was accused of being ‘bendy’. Apple admitted it was possible to bend the phone, but not through normal use. This factual response was also accurate, and the trolls died away.
Fortunately, there are forms of communication that remain secure and free from trolls. One of these is the humble fax, which with a digital update is still popular with businesses. You can send a free fax by email with a virtual fax number that hooks up with your email client. You can also receive a fax through email, even from a traditional fax machine.
Negative comments – even trolls – can be dealt with as long as you keep your cool and never post on social media when you are angry or upset. Stay professional. Remember that your social media is as much your brand as your product or service, and you need to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude and deal with issues promptly.