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Responding to a Social Media Crisis

February 9, 2015 - Business Psychology - ,
By: Chris Riley

Recently there was some controversy surrounding one of my posts on DevOps.com. I responded here, got some support here, and at this point, the situation is basically resolved. But the experience got me thinking. What’s the best way to respond to a social media crisis? There are definitely good and bad action plans for responding to online incidents. Whether the crisis stems from an internal or external event, there are numerous examples of appropriate (Buffer) and inappropriate (Pigalle Restaurant) responses.

Let’s start with a few don’ts:

  • Don’t hide! – While a natural response when everyone is upset might be to hide under your bed until the storm passes, resist that impulse! Even if you shut down your account, delete your pages and refuse to comment, the conversation will continue without you—and likely get worse. Just ask Justine Sacco. Not responding usually just causes more backlash.
  • Don’t place blame! – Especially if you’re in the top job at a company, you should own the situation rather than blaming someone or something else. If you admit a portion of your company is out of your control—whether it really is or not—the perception will be that you are weak. Companies that take responsibility convey the message that they are in control, and that they have the power to fix the situation.
  • Don’t be coy! – Updates are imperative whether the crisis is that you’ve offended someone or that your company has been hacked. Sharing what you’ve done, who you’ve reached out to and the response you’ve received is necessary. Your audience wants information, so be prepared to share as much as possible—even if it’s uncomfortable.

These responses are more likely to be perceived negatively by your audience—but there are many things you can do to improve your situation.

So here’s what you should do:

  • Respond quickly – In the fast moving world of the internet, 15 minutes is the benchmark for posting an apology. Although there is a difference between blogs and other social media platforms, in any situation speedy acknowledgement of a mistake is still key.
  • Be genuine – Your response will be judged, so you need to be truthful and genuine. You need to reconnect with your audience, and communicating with real remorse is the only way.
  • Be transparent – If you don’t know what’s happening, or even if you do, share that and let customers know you’re looking into what happened. When you determine what happened, or where you went wrong, let your audience know. You don’t want to jump the gun and share information before it’s ready, but as long as you’re providing new information that is correct and truthful, there’s no such thing as over-communicating.

You must have a crisis management plan in place before you start any kind of social media posting. In the midst of a crisis is not when you should be wondering what to do. Remember, a bad reputation takes much less time to travel the internet—and is significantly harder to reverse—than a good one.


Chris Riley (@HoardingInfo) is a technologist who has spent 12 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes and tooling. In addition to being a research analyst, he is an O’Reilly author, regular speaker, and subject matter expert in the areas of DevOps strategy and culture. Chris believes the biggest challenges faced in the tech market are not tools, but rather people and planning.

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