Social media managers talk a lot about being ready for a social media crisis, but there’s not much discussion about preparing for regular old bad news.
Sometimes you have to raise prices, close a branch, discontinue a product or deliver some other unsavory announcement. You know your fans and customers aren’t going to like it — but, for one reason or another, it still has to be done.
While social media crises pop up all of a sudden, you can usually see bad news coming ahead of time and plan specifically for it. That’s the good news.
But one can quickly lead to the other. When brands deliver bad news, it leaves them very vulnerable to a potential social media crisis.
To keep the bad from getting even worse, let’s look at a few of the biggest dos and don’ts of managing bad news for community managers, social media practitioners or anyone who’s on the front lines of communication.
1. Don’t: Underestimate The Damage
Maybe the reaction won’t be as strong as you think, but don’t count on it. Prepare in every way possible before the announcement. Think like your customer or client to try to anticipate every possible reaction and troubleshoot accordingly.
What recourse are you authorized to provide customers? How will you react to their questions? Is the bad news big enough that people will talk about it on social media or blog about it? Could media sources pick up on it? Sit down with all the key players on your team and think through every possible scenario while your judgment is clear and you still have time to think.
2. Do: Explain, Explain, Explain
Anticipate the questions you’ll be asked. Be sure you know exactly what you’re cleared to say — you might even want to have a Q&A document you can refer to.
The more information you can give your loyal fans and followers, the more likely they are to maintain their trust in you — even if they dislike the news you have to deliver. For community and social media managers, that means staying in the conversation even when it’s uncomfortable.
3. Don’t: Bury The News
It’s tempting to try to sweep bad news under the rug and hope no one will notice. But a) that hardly ever works, and b) it’s pretty unfair to loyalists who’ve hung with you this long and advocated for you. The upfront route will serve you better in the long run. Communicate simply and clearly — no obfuscating.
4. Do: Offer A Spot To Vent
Ok, the whole Internet can be more or less accurately labeled as a spot to vent, but it helps to invite the conversation to one specific channel you’ll be monitoring closely. That might be comments on a blog post, Twitter, a forum you manage, or even a Google Plus community.
While this approach won’t stop naysayers from venting wherever they feel like, it will help show that you’re invested in hearing them out. Meanwhile, you’ll be able to take the temperature of the discussion and report to bosses or clients with insightful information.
5. Don’t: Get Defensive
It’s really hard to be criticized, especially when the ill will seems to be piling on for a decision or change you might not have had anything to do with in the first place. But resist the urge to get defensive, sarcastic or emotional as you respond to comments. Your job is to be the voice of reason and civility. Provide explanations and context, offer apologies when they’re needed (and truly felt) and extra help when you can.
6. Do: Put Yourself In Your Customer’s Shoes
The most important skill a community manager can have? Empathy. The ability to put your feelings aside and imagine how someone else feels is crucial in social media, particularly in bad news situations. Consider it from their point of view.
7. Don’t: Belittle The Change
The bad news you’re announcing may seem like a small thing to you, or maybe you’ve had long enough to process the change that you’re no longer so upset about it. But remember that your customers and fans haven’t had the time to plan and prepare that you have. Despite your best efforts, they might feel blindsided. Don’t downplay the change or their feelings about it.
8. Do: Accentuate The Positive
If you’ve built a strong community around your brand, chances are good that you’ll find a few true-blue allies rallying around you even in the face of bad news. Don’t be afraid to turn to them now — maybe they can offer a different perspective, a positive tweet or even just a friendly word. You could probably use it.
Look for the positive as you respond to feedback, too. If someone tells you they’ll never be your customer again but they still wish you the best, focus just on that last part. Appealing to people’s better nature and staying above the fray will help maintain your brand’s integrity (and your sanity).
9. Don’t: Go Back To Business As Usual
Once you’ve delivered the bad news, managed the reaction, and made it through the aftermath, don’t expect your community of customers, fans and friends to bounce back overnight. Trust takes a long time to build — but it can be fractured easily. It may take days, weeks or even months before your community is back on an even keel. Deal with any residual fallout during this time the same way you did when you first delivered the news — honestly and with empathy.
10. Do: Take Care Of Yourself
Absorbing the outrage, hurt feelings and anger of an entire community takes its toll on a person — mentally and physically. Once you’ve done all you can do to see your part of the process through, remember to take time to recover and take care of yourself.
Have you ever had to deliver or manage bad news via social media? How did you get through it? Let me know in the comments.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.