Recovering from a Social Media Gaffe

Social media is legendary for its transparency and speed.  This can turn out to be a double edge sword as mistakes can  be highly and widely visible.

Did you have a slip of the key? Perhaps it was an accidental tweet, an unfortunate typo or a well-meaning but poorly worded Facebook post?  Maybe the brewing crisis originated from outside issues such as a customer complaint or an economic, political or a natural disaster.

Related post: OOPS : Best of Social Media Blunders

Irrespective of its origins, you must respond quickly to a social media crisis. Offer an apology in public comments. Explain how you will take steps to ensure that the situation doesn’t happen again.

Plan Ahead:  It’s best to think in terms of “when” instead of “if” situations

Depending on whether or not you subscribe to the Scouting motto (be prepared), this will be your first step or you may only devote time to it once you’ve survived a social catastrophe.

Successful crisis management depends largely on developing a planned and integrated communications approach.

Following are two examples of social media preparedness plans:

  • The United-States Air Force has a blog response assessment process.  The flow chart lays out a range of possible responses.  Read more here.
  • Cisco’s Social Media Response Strategy is based on the US Air Force blog triage approach.
Cisco Social Media Response Strategy

Listening: Recognition through active monitoring

  • Whether you take this on yourself or entrust it to a reputation management firm, it’s essential for you to know when trouble is brewing.
  • Listen all the time, not only on weekdays.

More on “listening” via  @LaSandraBrill, Senior Manager Social Media at Cisco :  [SlideShare] Cisco and the Social Web: Listening and Responding to Your Customers and Prospects

The Science of Listening in Social Media and Blogs via Kuno Creative

InformationWeek: Sentiment Analysis: How Companies Now Listen To The Web and 7 Ways Sentiment Is Hard To Decipher Online

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Action and Apology: It’s a two-step process

It’s time to spring into action, something needs to be done. It’s important to respond quickly.

1) You must first publicly acknowledge that there is an issue whether you are at fault or not.


Don’t try to come up with a perfect answer at first; a speedy reply that indicates you’ve heard and understood is better than a detailed one that’s a week late.

Source: Social Media Firestorms – A First Responder’s Guide, ComputerWorld


2) Apologize: this is an opportunity for you to separate out the past and future through problem and resolution.


After your first acknowledgement, take time (not too much, though) to craft a more detailed response. It doesn’t have to be exponentially longer than your original note, but it should contain three things:

Your understanding and acknowledgement of the problem

Affirmation that you have learned from the situation

The steps you’re taking to correct it now and prevent it from happening in the future.

Source: Social Media Firestorms – A First Responder’s Guide, ComputerWorld


10 Things to Keep in Mind as you Craft Your Apology

  • Be honest and transparent
  • Embrace criticism: think of it as free market research
  • Don’t be argumentative
  • No matter how justified you feel, don’t be defensive
  • Be humble or you will tumble
  • Think about what you’re trying to accomplish
  • Pick the right tone and keep it simple: save the corporate talk for a press release
  • Select the right communications channels: respond where the complaint or issue originated, and leverage complimentary sources (e.g. your corporate blog)
  • Personalize when possible: in response to a specific person or through the face / voice of your corporation
  • Making an apology can be complex but it has to sound simple and sincere

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Believe it or not, there are lots of bad ways to apologize. A few examples of what not to say:

I’m sorry you feel that way.

You have to admit, a big part of this is your fault too.

There’s lots of blame to spread around here.”

Source:  7 Tips on How to Apologize in the Business World by Tom Searcy


@CiscoSmallBiz Turns a Negative Into a Positive via @LaSandraBrill, Senior Manager Social Media – Cisco

Lessons Learned? Assess your response and its impact, build knowledge into the plan

Everything you do, and everything you don’t do, communicates about your brand. A mistake speaks volumes about your (in)ability to manage social media effectively.  Remember that despite your best efforts, mistakes happen at some point. The key is not to panic, but to implement a social media response plan to quickly restore credence in your brand. Invest in “listening” as it offers the ability to learn from what your customers are saying.

Related post: OOPS : Best of Social Media Blunders

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“Recover from Social Business Mistakes” was featured on October 7th 2011. This tip is adapted from “The Simple Way to Avoid Social Media Failures” by Jeff Stibel.

The Management Tip of the Day by Harvard Business Review offers quick, practical management tips and ideas on wide ranging business topics including managing people, innovation, leadership, leadership, and more (more information and to subscribe).


Cafélina uses Royalty free images

3 thoughts on “Recovering from a Social Media Gaffe

  1. Thank you to Maria Tseng for her Facebook comment: “All your recommendations are good for any kind of gaffe, whether on social media, in person or in any other type of communication. However!!!!!!!! Don’t allow yourself to be bullied. Many people seem to feel that it’s OK to bully and insult people on social media.”

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