Lawyers and executives have long feared social media as a PR risk, nothing but a place where anger foments and rage is spawned. In reality, social media is one of the most effective channels for brands to change the channel of rage to positive reviews and cut the cord on anger.

On May 5, The Conference Board of Canada’s PR Crisis Forum invited Heidi Sullivan Cision Canada’s Managing Director, to share how social media can be used to stop a crisis in its tracks on social media.

Your customers use social media as a customer service channel to solve issues and be heard. In both cases, obey these three rules to help protect your brand.

1. Give people a place to vent.

A lot of the time what people want is to be heard. Sullivan shared the example of Penn State’s management of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal, which has the former football coach accused of molesting children for more than a decade currently serving a prison sentence. The school setup a microsite where the public could share their anger separately from social media itself. The site collected more than 800 public comments and made it appear that the school had listened. This deflected some anger away from the school itself.

If people are venting on your Twitter page, respond to acknowledge you have heard their feedback and will be following up when you have more information or a resolution for the issue. Sullivan pointed out, it is better to say that you’ve heard someone than to say nothing at all.

2. Take it offline and fix the problem.

Once you have a resolution to an issue, the best thing you can do is to take the conversation offline as quickly as possible.

Sullivan’s general rule is two responses: first online and second, find a way to take it offline. This can be as simple as providing a commenter a phone number for the customer support team in a private message or asking for their email address and connecting them directly the team that can help.

3. Respond quickly and apologise.

Finding ways to empathise and apologise can prevent an issue from becoming a crisis on social media. Whenever possible, express regret over the frustration an issue has caused and whatever you do, don’t blame anyone else.

b2d349f9Sometimes all that is needed is an admission that something has happened. Sullivan shared a story about the American Red Cross, when its community manager accidentally shared a personal tweet about looking forward to getting drunk on the weekend. Shortly thereafter, the Red Cross shared another tweet saying:

“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”

By replying comically and with a message relating to safety, the Red Cross protected its brand and defused an unforced error.

About James Rubec

James Rubec is a data geek, a former public relations lead and journalist with a love of content and advocacy. Ask him anything @JamesRRubec and be sure to follow @Cision_Canada

Read previous post:
ROI for Communication Pros Part 3: Analysis and Attribution

ROI for Communication Pros is a three part series that will explore the basics of marketing and PR measurement and...