How to Avoid Customer Service and PR Nightmares on Social Media


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From a corporate perspective, social media has the power to do both good and bad. On the one hand, it can greatly aid a brand’s pursuit of attracting and engaging leads. On the other, it exposes you to potential risks and mistakes on a very public level. With that being said, have you addressed relevant concerns to ensure your company leaders know how to avoid customer service and PR nightmares on social media? If you don’t have a plan, you’re essentially waiting for a ticking time bomb to explode.

Social Media Gone Awry

If you want a clear picture of just how disastrous a social media mistake can be in the modern age of viral content, look no further than these two examples:

  • United Airlines

Perhaps the most popular social media mistakes ever occurred when United Airlines damaged musician David Carroll’s guitar during a flight. He reportedly tried for months to get them to pay for the damage and they repeatedly refused. As a last-ditch effort, he uploaded an original music video to YouTube called “United Breaks Guitars.” To date, it’s received more than 15 million views and put United in a very awkward position.

  • Applebee’s

The second example we’ll look at occurred when Applebee’s fired an employee for writing a snarky comment on a check (as a result of being shorted on the tip) and uploading it to the popular website, Reddit. Aside from the fact that they fired the waitress, Applebee’s handled the social media backlash poorly. They posted the customer’s name to their public profiles, moderated comments by deleting negative ones, and choosing to offer an explanation in the middle of the night so that it would go unnoticed.

The moral of the story is that you have to be careful with social media. “Don’t trust public relations agencies that say things like ‘any publicity is good publicity’,” says Jakob Marketing Partners. In the digital age, only good publicity is good publicity.

3 Tips for Avoiding Social Media Disasters

So, how can you avoid social media disasters and ensure these channels are used for brand building – not destruction? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Own up to your mistakes. First off, if you do make a mistake, own up to it. This is the quickest way to diffuse a problem. It’s when companies try to cover up or avoid responsibility that bigger problems arise. BP is a great example of a company that owned up to a major mistake by taking responsibility after the Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010.
  • Never get in a battle. People are going to say negative things about your brand, or even make up fictional claims. That’s just the nature of social media. However, you can’t pick battles with individual users. Let things go, unless they gain traction. At this point, you may want to address an issue with a generalized statement (not directed at anyone in particular). It’s when you point fingers that you take an “us versus them” mentality.
  • Two sets of eyes. An ill timed tweet or out of context post can land you in hot water in no time. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a social media policy that requires two people to look over any post before it’s submitted. This greatly reduces the risk of posting something that won’t be received well by followers.

Never Let Your Guard Down

Social media is a fantastic resource, especially for small businesses and brands without large marketing budgets. However, it can also tear you down in a matter of seconds. Use social media the right way and focus on simultaneously being cautious and engaging.

Larry Alton
Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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