Making Amends: 4 Tips on How to Handle Social Media Missteps

social media tips
Making Amends: 4 Tips on How to Handle Social Media Missteps

Just last week, the internet had a little bit of fun when one of the planes from the Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific was found to suffer from a glaring typo in its paint job. Instead of a text on the plane’s side spelling ‘Cathay Pacific’ as it normally would, it spells ‘Cathay Paciic’ which brings a whole new meaning to the phrase not giving an F. It doesn’t matter if you’re an airline regularly touted as one of the best in the world, mistakes will always happen.

In this world where everything is connected, anything that is deemed to be slightly out of the ordinary will be recorded, shared and quite possibly ridiculed until the next viral hit comes along. Social media is a double-edged sword, it has the potential to amplify your marketing but at the same time, any missteps and blunders you make could get amplified as well. The question in how to manage these missteps is the one we’ll be exploring further as we go along.

The volatile nature of social media

The thing about the internet is that it’s a really slippery slope. You could for example post a joke that you made entirely in good conscience only to find that it contains language or insinuations that might be considered offensive to a certain disadvantaged group and before you know it, you’re already on the defensive. Given the highly politicized and divisive nature of social media in 2018, damage control is an essential skill to have when managing a social media account.

The internet has a really good memory, even if you immediately took the problematic posts down, chances are one the billions of users on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram has already screen grabbed them for posterity. No, when it comes to mistakes on social media, simply sweeping them under the rug and pretends that they never happened is not going to be enough. Being proactive pays a lot of dividends on social media and to help set you on the right part, here are some tips to get you started.

Monitor your social media traffic

There’s a saying that goes like this, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What this means is that actual good deeds is what matters, not your original intentions. It’s not uncommon to see brands get blindsided when their posts or campaign get embroiled in controversy simply because of their lack of awareness. To combat this, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your social media mentions to see if anything you’ve said is generating some negative buzz.

The best way to deal with a controversy is to get ahead of it and with the plethora of free social media monitoring tools available across the internet; you could nip the problem in the bud before things get out of hand.

Respond and own up to your mistakes quickly

Now, once you’ve set up a proper monitoring system and discovered that you’ve been receiving some negative attention, you have to tackle that problem head-on. Take down the offending posts and quickly follow it up with an actual apology. Don’t try to trivialize the issue or use if phrases such as “if I have offended you in any way” as that is basically you trying to deflect blame into the public for being too sensitive.

When it comes to public apology, the no-nonsense approach is ideal. Try to do it as quickly, cleanly and humbly as possible. The quicker you can get past the issue, the better.

Mention the steps you’ve taken or are going to take to correct those mistakes, if there are any

Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on you. It is a truth universally acknowledged that everybody makes mistakes but only an unrepentant buffoon would make the same mistake twice. When Starbucks was hit by allegations of racism in the United States earlier this year, they took concrete steps by closing all of their American branches for a racial bias education day. Racial bias can’t be solved in a day but it does show that Starbucks is willing to make an actual effort in improving their business practice.

Brands and companies need to do more than just say they’re sorry. By disclosing what steps you’ve taken or are going to take to correct whatever mistakes you’ve made, you’re showing the public that you are willing to put your money where your mouth is. It’s an old cliche but actions do speak louder than words.

Try not to feed the trolls

Now, it should be noted that while some of the complaints you see on social media are indeed legitimate, some simply aren’t. For example, when a new entry to the popular first-person shooter video game series Battlefield was announced earlier this year, the WW2-focused Battlefield V, Electronic Arts, the developer behind the game received a very audible backlash because the trailer for the game prominently featured women soldiers. This is not a legitimate complain.

The backlash even had its very own catchphrase on Twitter, #NotMyBattlefield, mirroring the #NotMyPresident campaign that started after Trump won the United States election in 2016.  Given the divisive nature of the world right now, it’s simply impossible for you to please everyone. Sometimes, the negative attentions you’re receiving are from trolls that complain for the sake of complaining. Double-check to see if their complaints are legitimate before apologizing.

Closing thoughts

While in the normal day-to-day operations it is advisable for companies and brands to adopt a congenial attitude due to the rather informal nature of social media, apologizing for a mistake should be handled seriously. Being humble and sincere is essential to an apology to show that you actually mean what you said. Making an offensive post is bad but posting a half-hearted apology in response to said mistake can actually be worse.