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Best Practices in Recovering From a Social Media Mistake

5 min

No matter what career you’re in, there will come a point when you make a mistake. It’s inevitable. You’re only human after all. It might just be a very minor flub that can be quite easily brushed under the proverbial carpet without causing any lasting damage. Or, on the other hand, it could be a major cock up that proves to be either a rather serious embarrassment for your company, or perhaps even end up costing somebody a lot of money. Either way, you should not fear. You can recover, as can any jeopardised reputation of your company. 

This is no truer than in the world of social media marketing. All those years of hard work you’ve spent building up a satisfied and engaged international following, could potentially all be ruined with a single thoughtless or careless tweet. It’s happened to companies before.

In September 2013, for example, Kenneth Cole, the man behind the lucrative fashion label of the same name, thought he’d try to take advantage of the ongoing Syrian conflict to peddle his product.

Example of social media mistake of take advantage of the ongoing Syrian conflict

Needless to say this proved to be very controversial, as did another tweet of his, this time poking fun at demonstrations in Cairo as a ‘creative’ way to plug a new line of clothing.

Example of social media mistake of poking fun at demonstrations in Cairo

While I am of course sure that you would in no way ever consider posting something so heartless simply to draw attention to your business, errors of judgement can be made, and if you (or one of your employees) do ever find yourselves overcome with a moment of madness, then all is not lost. You just have to be very careful about how you deal with the aftermath.

Things you should know about social media mistake:

Be Prepared

Brands will inevitably experience an unexpected and unwanted slip up from time to time – and if yours hasn’t happened already, then perhaps it’s due. For the unprepared, a plummeting reputation awaits. However, audience forgiveness can be quite readily attained if you start to put plans in place now, just in case the unthinkable ever happens.

Sandra Fathi, President at Affect, indicates that when a social media crisis strikes, you literally only have a matter of minutes to respond. Fathi outlines the following recommended response times:

  • Twitter: Minutes, up to 2 hours
  • Facebook: Up to 12 hours
  • Blogs: Up to 24 hours
  • Mainstream Media: 1 to 2 days

So, with these very short timeframes in mind, you’ll do well to start preparing the following straightaway:

  • Prepared messages/statements/press releases/letters to customers that can be quickly tailored to address the crisis at hand.
  • Train employees to be aware of and anticipate potential backlash following a social media mistake. They should be aware that they might make things worse if they immediately jump onto Twitter themselves in an attempt to defend your company.
  • Have a special hotline and social media channels at the ready in preparation for a stream of questions and concerns from your customers. Though do make sure that you’re armed with positive answers before you open the floodgates.

To Err Is Human

One of the beauties of social media – which, if you are a marketer, you will no doubt already be very keenly aware of – is that it can and should be used to humanizing a brand. And this is never more crucial than when dealing with a crisis.

In the event of a blunder, even though it was social that housed the event, it’s nonetheless social media that you must turn to address the problem. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest – these are all extremely interactive platforms on which you’ll be able to quickly respond to any backlash in real time. And this you must do if you want to take control of the situation and rectify your mistake.

Let’s take a look at a couple more examples. Firstly, SpaghettiOs.

Example of social media mistake made by SpaghettiOs

Promoting their brand through something as close to the heart (and the bone) as Pearl Harbor was, perhaps predictably, not a very good idea. Following a lot of backlash, they later apologized.

Apologize from SpaghettiOs for its social media mistake

Here’s another one. Shortly following the Boston marathon tragedy, Epicurious thought it would be a good idea to take the opportunity to plug its breakfast treats.

Example of social media mistake made by Epicurious

Needless to say, the brand later had no option but to apologize.

So, What to Do When Disaster Strikes?

If your brand is ever faced with a crisis such as this, the first thing you will of course have to do is own your mistake, and secondly apologize without delay.

It’s important to remember that an apology is not the same as an admission of guilt, but rather something that will prove to humanize your brand in the face of a blunder. So, do not whatever you do try to suggest that your account was hacked when it wasn’t. Some people may believe you, but an awful lot of others won’t, and this can irreparably damage your reputation in the public eye.

So, far better to just own up to it, acknowledge the impact that your message has had on affected parties, and you should find that forgiveness will come your way. Put simply, just be humble. We all make mistakes, so don’t think that you’re above yours. Admit your failing, and you might even manage to turn what could be some bad press into a golden opportunity to add an irreplaceable human touch to your brand.

For example, recently in the UK, bakers Greggs didn’t make the faux pas itself, but a defaced logo led to plenty of online chuckles aimed at the business. The company soon bit back with an example of social media management that’s a lesson to us all – they used humor to its best advantage and in the end, not only won the respect of the internet, but lots more customers too.

You of course want to be quick with your response, but you do also want to very careful. So, take a little time to choose your wording very carefully for your social media response. Make your apology personal – respond to individual people one by one, if necessary – and above all make sure it is sincere.

Mistakes happen and blunders occur, so always make sure that you’re prepared for such an eventuality, own up to your gaff immediately, offer a sincere apology, and you will no doubt find that your audience is actually a rather forgiving bunch, and your reputation should not be affected at all.

Have you ever had a mistake happen on your watch? Share with us in the comments below how you think Social Media Mistakes should be handled!

Kerry Butters
Kerry Butters
Kerry is a prolific technology writer, covering a range of subjects from design & development, SEO & social, to corporate tech & gadgets. Co-author of SitePoint's Jump Start HTML5, Kerry also heads up digital content agency markITwrite and is an all-round geek.