Responding to Crises, Trolls and Avoiding Gaffes

Published on Jun 23rd, 2016

by Jack Weinstein

Social media has become the best way for brands to communicate with audiences, and quickly. It’s also the best way for those fans and followers to interact directly with brands.

And it’s not always positive.

Whether it’s lodging a complaint or criticizing a brand for its handling of a particular situation, sometimes brands need to use social media as a customer service tool to address crises.

We evaluated some recent examples of how brands addressed product recalls and failures and how they responded to consumer criticism. From those outcomes, we created a list of steps your brand should take to minimize the damage through social media channels.


  1. Acknowledge the situation quickly


According to a study by digital marketing expert Jay Baer, 42% of social consumers expect their complaints on social media to be addressed in an hour . And more than half of them expect that response regardless of time of day or day of the week.

This may not be realistic for all brands, especially those operating with limited staffs. We recommend that brands respond to comments and direct messages within a day, if possible. The sooner the better.

  1. Address criticism directly and where your audience is most active


Adidas met criticism over its Instagram post celebrating Valentine’s Day on the platform, not with a press release. The post depicted the legs of two women who are facing each other with the caption “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”



Unperturbed by insensitive comments it received on the photo, Adidas simply responded with two emojis: a hand waving goodbye and a kiss . Adidas generates 97% of its engagement on Instagram, which means it's likely that most of the company's audience saw the action it took. It may not have been the intention, but the post is Adidas’ most-engaged year to date.

  1. Have your brands leadership issue its response or apology


Chipotle found itself in the news for all the wrong reasons in late 2015 after E. Coli, norovirus and salmonella outbreaks at some of its restaurants sickened hundreds. After it investigated the source of the outbreak and put food safety measures in place, Chipotle posted a letter on Facebook and Twitter from founder Steve Ells that outlined the company’s plan for preventing future incidents of foodborne illness.

An outbreak hasn’t been reported since, but Q1 sales declined for the second consecutive quarter. Chipotle acknowledged that it’s still working to regain the trust of its customers , but reported that they’re coming back.

  1. Respond to every comment on every platform (within reason)


As we indicated in No. 2, Adidas addressed criticism of its Valentine's Day post with emojis and it responded to many people, but not all. That post eventually racked up nearly 172,000 comments. Obviously, it couldn't respond to every post.

Baer, whose study we referred to in No. 1, recommends responding twice before taking the conversation offline, which he calls "the Rule of Reply Twice."

“Violating the Rule of Reply Twice could drag you down into a vortex of negativity and hostility,” Baer writes.

He indicated that if additional contact is required, the brand should take the conversation to the non-public communication tools that each platform provides, like direct messages on Twitter or Facebook Messenger. Having consumers contact your brand by phone also works.

  1. Keep your audience updated about any changes


When the Volkswagen emissions scandal broke in September 2015, the German automaker didn’t initially respond on social media for six days, which violates No. 1 on our list. But over the next two months, Volkswagen tweeted information about every two weeks informing customers what action they could take to verify whether their car was affected and what to do about it.

Like Chipotle, Volkswagen is still trying to repair its relationships with customers. But sales declines slowed in April indicating that the recovery may be taking place. A swifter, more frequent response may have helped turn things around more quickly.





Bonus tip : One way to avoid staying out of hot water as a brand is not posting tributes after celebrities die. Regardless of your intentions, those posts rarely work out.

Cheerios, which shares the same home state with Prince, who died in May, quickly removed its tribute that substituted a single Cheerio to dot the “i” in “Rest in Peace,” after it was widely panned as promotional and insensitive. A Huffington Post headline read: Cheerios’ Tasteless Prince Tribute Bombs On Twitter .

If you absolutely must post a tribute, don’t include your brand name or logo.

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