Talk about embarrassing! British Airways accidentally shared a Facebook post from their major competitor, Virgin Atlantic. The post included not only references to the rival but a CTA with a link to Virgin’s site.

Virgin’s fast-acting social media team capitalized on this opportunity. They shared the post on their own accounts. They turned the humiliating mistake into a joke. Even British Airways was encouraging passengers to fly with Virgin Atlantic.

Fortunately, no serious harm was done in this case. But it reminds us of the fact that a social media crisis can come out of nowhere. It can start simply. It can spread rapidly. But they can be prevented when the right social media strategies are in place.

social media crisis

Keep reading to avoid a social media crisis much worse than this one for your small business.

1. Be Confident in Your Ability to Engage

There are plenty of people and even small businesses that draw their self-worth from how many followers they have. They get giddy every time someone likes a post.

So they constantly ask people to like, share, follow, subscribe, or comment. Some of this is okay and can be helpful. But when overdone, it appears that you lack confidence that people will do these things naturally.

You want people to actually like your content and want to share it for that reason, right?

One objective for a small business social media account is to get more followers, likes, shares, and comments. This engagement can be turned into revenues.

But something interesting usually happens with “needy” business accounts. They generate followers in the short-term. However, as people continue to see “needy” behavior, it grows annoying. The following you thought you were building suddenly dissipates into a social media crisis.

Prevent it by letting your content speak for itself. Focus on posting things that create a primal need on the part of the follower to like, share, or comment.

Find more clever ways to ask for engagement. Instead of “comment please”, ask people a question that starts a conversation.

Instead of like this, in Instagram, you can say “Double-Tap if you agree”. This is the same as a like but it seems less needy.

Give people a reason to follow by engaging followers effectively. In doing this, you’ll build a stronger following of people who genuinely like your business.

2. Generate Quality Followers

What’s each follower worth to your business? If you’re attracting the right followers, ones who love your content and business, each follower could be said to have a monetary value. But if your account is filled with unengaged followers, they’re worth very little.

They just boost your numbers.

social media crisis can ensue. People spend time and or money building awareness on social media. They think they’re doing great when they have 1000 followers. Then they look at their actual conversions.

They realize something is very wrong.

The most common cause of poor quality followers is buying followers. Instead of focusing on creating content and campaigns that earn followers through engagement, you pay for followers.

This normally happens in one of two ways.

You might pay the social media platform to run ads asking people to follow you.

These ads often go out beyond your target audience, making them very hit or miss. You generate follows from people who follow because you asked and then unfollow the next day.

You still pay for that follow.

Or you end up with people who just follow thousands of accounts that look interesting. But they never interact with that account.

In another scenario, you pay a company to get you a thousand followers or so. But in most cases, these followers are just fake accounts created just for the purpose of selling you followers.

You can’t get any revenues out of that. This social media crisis can be avoided by paying attention to who’s following you. Be aware of fake accounts.

Twitter recently tried to clean up its cesspool of fake followers. You may have noticed them. They would often include a name and a picture of pretty girl. Or they would just have an egg for a picture.

But they were just bots who would follow many people’s accounts at once.

Their goal was usually to earn some followers from people who always follow back. Then they look like real accounts. Once the account was legitimized by having a certain number of followers, scammers could then sell follows to a business using these fake accounts.

Businesses might pay hundreds of dollars for thousands of useless followers. Ouch!

Even if you don’t buy followers, you may have a few fake followers on your account, so be sure to do routine maintenance and clear them out. 

3. Manage Your Reputation

You may remember Insurance company Progressive’s social media crisis a few years ago. After a customer’s compelling complaint went viral, progressive customers flooded Progressive’s Twitter profile with concerned messages.

They received an auto-response, “This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for their pain…We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations.”

The message in and of itself wasn’t poorly constructed. But because of viral nature of the complaint, Progressive’s feed quickly filled with the auto-response along with this ever-cheerful face.

social media crisis

It’s easy to understand why this infuriated concerned customers even more. It went on for hours as a social media firestorm ensued. Television News outlets like CNN and Fox News picked up the story. Then business journals and other commentators jumped on board, furthering the damage.

It sparked the creation of memes and quickly became a “cultural reference” on how not to handle a social media crisis.

What We Can Learn

There’s a lot to learn from this one example.

First, a social media crisis can happen in an instant.

Are you a weekend warrior on social media? You schedule everything out on Saturday and then ignore it the rest of week. You’re playing a dangerous game.

In the case of our example, the immediate firestorm created by the auto-responders continued for too long with no response from the company.

Not being aware of what’s happening on your profile can cause serious damage.

Second, social media is a powerful tool. In the right hands, it can grow your business fast. It can also have a detrimental impact on your reputation.

Third, you have to consider the whole package. Given the gravity of the complaint, people were infuriated by the cold auto-response. But it was made worse by the fact that it was accompanied by Flo’s smiling face.

Your visuals, words, and other media work together to create a single impression.

You can’t ignore any of these pieces.

While not specific to this case, keep in mind that Yelp and other review sites are a form of social media. People use them to share with others. This could have just as well been a string of bad reviews that went unaddressed.

Check all of your social media sites regularly. Keep track of not only what’s in your feed. Also look at mentions. You can even invest in mention-tracking software. Get notified when people have mentioned your company.

Responding to Negative Mentions or Reviews

Let’s look at how to handle a negative mention.

  1. Don’t lash out. It’s never effective to appear defensive even if you strongly know you’re in the right.
  2. Always demonstrate respect and a willingness to listen to concerns.
  3. Approach each negative mention as a learning opportunity.
  4. Fix it if you can. Do you know who the customer is? Can you fix it? They may remove the review or bump it up a couple media crisis
  5. Request that offensive reviews be removed. If the reviewer uses foul language or makes absurd claims, you may be able to get the site to remove it.
  6. Leave the rest. Realize that some of it may be intended just to get a rise out of you. Stay calm and focus on the big picture.
  7. Focus on getting more good reviews. The best way to beat bad reviews is to get more good ones. Focus your energies there. And have a winning reputation.
  8. Look for opportunities to expand awareness. With some planning and execution, bad social media attention can be flipped into greater brand awareness. It all depends on how well you handle the situation.

4. Add Consistent Valuable Content

Do you have a really busy season when you just don’t have time for social media? You let your profile languish. Or maybe you set up some kind auto-tweeter to just share random posts from people you follow.

You might post a lot for a week and then stop until next month. Or you publish 3 blog posts one week and then wait 3 months to publish more.

People follow accounts because they consistently provide an experience. They learn to anticipate your latest releases, posts, updates or offers. If your profile is providing an erratic or low-quality experience, they have nothing to look forward to. They see you as a dormant account, leave and find someone new to follow.

But a social media crisis like this is completely avoidable. Put yourself on a schedule. If you have to do most of your social media work on one day, schedule things out to provide a more even distribution of content. And if you don’t have the time to set aside to do that, consider hiring the help of social media marketing company.

Don’t skimp on quality. You could be sharing the work of others or creating your own. In either case, the small businesses whose business profiles convey consistent quality earn quality followers that can be turned into actual revenues.

5. Avoid Controversy

social media crisis

How well do you really know your customers? The goal is to know them better than they know themselves through analytics. Most of the time, a small faux pas won’t hurt you.

But some miscalculations about your target audience can create a social media crisis. The backlash is often swift and brutal. Unlike Progressive that has the ability to weather a social media storm, crises of some magnitude can completely destroy a small business.

Such was the case for a small T-shirt company in Pennsylvania. They released a new shirt on social media with a message that trivialized sexual assault. But it gets even worse for the company.

This shirt was released in late 2017 just as the #MeToo movement was picking up steam. This increased the chances that this type of message would go viral.

The company was able to demonstrate that the T-shirt image was the result of automated software that produced random sayings on T-shirts. But the damage was done.

After 20 years in business, the company went under almost immediately. This example may have simply been a lack of understanding of the technology. Or perhaps lack of quality control. But it clearly shows how sending out a controversial message can quickly destroy a small business.

This isn’t uncommon. You may think that your customers share your views on:

  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Social Issues
  • Gun control
  • Foreign policy
  • And so on

But it’s rarely worth the risk. Some people will verbally object. Far more will just silently find another company.

You can find exceptions like Atlanta-based Chick-fil-a, whose outspoken CEO Dan Cathy is known to make controversial statements. These often result in backlash followed by people rallying around the company. But don’t think these are the rule.

The vast majority of customers prefer not to mix business services with their personal lives. So unless, it’s directly related to your business, it’s best to stay out of it.

If you really want to take a stand on something, you may choose to take a calculated risk. But trying to capitalize on a contentious news story or cultural change almost always ends badly.

6. Don’t Spread Yourself Across Too Many Platforms

Multi-channel marketing is a marketing style that promotes spreading your marketing message across many locations.

It’s important to “cover your bases”. Be where the customers are. But this can be taken to an extreme. That leads to a social media crisis. You’ve spread yourself too thin.

You won’t be able to give each community the care it needs to thrive. You’ll end up spending a lot more time and money for less return.

Instead, do your research. Select the 2-3 social media platforms that make the most sense for your business. Dedicate your efforts to building these platforms up. Focus on generating awareness and engagement on these platforms. 

Then turn that engagement into revenues.

Analyze your data. Ensure you’re on the right platforms and using them effectively.

social media crisis

7. Have A Strategy & Follow it

What’s your plan? Where will your social media profile be in 3 months? 6 months? 2 years?

How will you get there? Have you started dabbling in social media? But you don’t have a plan to:

  • Get more quality followers
  • Earn engagement
  • Turn engagement into leads and/or customers
  • Encourage promoter activity

A social media account without a strategy may appear to be doing well for a short time. But it will flounder as followers become confused about who you are as a business. Why should they follow you?

The social media crisis starts when you realize the profile is built on shifting sands.

Every social media strategy includes these 8 components:

  1. A clear understanding of who the target customers are. If you try to engage everyone, you’ll end up not engaging anyone.
  2. Clearly defined SMART goals. That’s means each goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Targeted and Time-boundsocial media crisis
  3. Social media audit. Determine where you stand today. Where do your competitors stand? Identify strengths and weaknesses. What’s your differentiator in the marketplace?
  4. Clearly defined budget. Many small businesses have no social media budget. They just spend whatever it takes. Or they think that social media marketing shouldn’t cost anything. This never achieves the right ROI.
  5. Tools. Having the right tools in place helps you get more with less. Today, much of your social media efforts can be automated and streamlined through the right tools.
  6. Talent. Who will be creating your content? Writing social media headlines? Responding to social media comments? It may not be a full-time job for your small business. But everyone needs to know what they’ll be responsible for in a written plan
  7. Time management. When will you or others manage your social media accounts? To be consistent, get on a media crisis
  8. Analytics. Both before you begin and as you develop your social media presence, you’ll need to track performance to determine what’s effective. As you do, you’ll streamline your processes to improve your ROI.

8. Don’t Make It All About You

You want to be a thought leader. You expect to be the go-to source for information and whatever it is that your small business sells. But there’s a fine line between establishing yourself as an authority and entering a state of constant self-promotion.

The latter negatively impacts the way most people see your brand.

Instead, carefully curate and share the works of others. Avoid direct competitors, of course – remember the British Airways mistake we discussed earlier?

social media crisisCuration serves several functions:

  1. It reduces costs. It’s cheaper and less time-intensive to curate than to create original content.
  2. It allows you to constantly engage. Your account doesn’t appear dormant in between created content shares.
  3. It avoids repetition. If you didn’t curate, you might share original content over and over to avoid appearing inactive. A little duplication is okay. But people unfollow accounts that are repetitive.

9. Make It About You

It’s not a total contradiction. This is your business social media profile. It needs to be about your business. Curating and sharing the content of others does serve a purpose. But if a brand isn’t creating any of its own content, it won’t be seen as a real brand.

Instead, it will be seen as a curation account. People use curation accounts to gather ideas for their own marketing efforts. Your competitors might even be mooching off your account rather than curating their own content.

So what should you share about you?

Share your story. Share customer stories related to your product or service. Create blogs, videos, quizzes and other engaging content. The most important thing here is to find a balance between sharing about you and about your industry.

10. Find Balance

Jay Baer, a well known digital marketing expert and speaker, did some interesting research to demonstrate what happens when accounts rely too heavily on curation or creation.

These results show how over-zealous curation could cause a social media crisis. You’ll see why it’s important to share original content as well.

They also demonstrate the diminishing returns of only sharing your own content. There’s a clear line at which you’re spending more on creation than you’re able to recoup in conversions.

Baer’s team examined around 150 thousand posts from over 1000 accounts across all the major social media platforms.

He found that those who were curation heavy (around 75%) got more clicks. If you were only looking at engagement, you might think that their social media strategies were working. But the actual conversion rate on all of this activity was only 0.2%. That’s tragic!

On the opposite end, those who were heavy on self-promotion (around 75%) got less than a third of the engagement of curation heavy profiles. The good news was that when people did click they were more likely to convert at a rate of 2.4%.

That’s decent. But because the clicks were so many fewer and the content costs so much higher, it translates to a pitiful ROI.

Finally, he looked at accounts that created a balance between curation and creation (25%-50% creation). These got around 20% fewer clicks than the curation heavy profile. But the conversion rate was 2.5%, 10X higher even though there were fewer clicks.

The study found this range for a sweet spot. Where will your small business’ sweet spot be? Start out within the area of 25%-50% creation. And use analytics to find out where you get the greatest return on investment.

11. Use Direct Promotion Wisely

social media crisis

By direct promotion, we’re not talking about sharing your blog posts, videos, and other engaging content. Direct promotion is overt selling like:

Get 20% off all organic products this week only.


We’ve just added 10 new colors to our kitchen utensil selection. Check them out.

To avoid the social media crisis of losing followers in droves, keep direct promotion under 10% of your shares. This 10% is included in the 25%-50% of your shares that should be about you, as we discussed in the previous sections.

12. Create a Visual Experience

Do you want to know how to sabotage your small business’ social media accounts? Have a page that is all text. It doesn’t matter if your a mergers and acquisitions lawyer or a chef, humans are very visual creatures.

Regardless of who your target customers are, people are looking for a certain kind of visual on social media. They

  • Grab attention
  • Make them want to know more
  • Convey a message without the need for words
  • Complement any words or linked content
  • Further the customer experience

social media crisis

13. Get Strategic with Hashtags

Hashtags aren’t an afterthought. They are an effective tool. Hashtags can be thought of as a folder system. When people are looking for something, they look in the folder that has a label matching what they’re looking for.

The hashtag is the label.

One way to strategically use hashtags is by creating a hashtag funnel. This is how to create a winning Instagram strategy. But is also works on other platforms.

It starts broad and gets more specific to attract people at various stages of awareness.

From broad to specific, it will look something like this as it applies.

  • Industry
  • Niche
  • Brand
  • Community (physical or online community like an influencer’s blog)
  • Location
  • Event

Stop a Social Media Crisis Before It Starts

Sharing your competitor’s CTA. That’s embarrassing. But small business faces a bigger social media crisis when they don’t have the right strategies in place to get a decent ROI on their social media efforts.

Are your social media efforts falling flat? Can you not turn engagement into revenues? That’s a real crisis. We can help. Find out how we can help you grow your business through social media. Contact us today.

Categories: Tips

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