A Definitive Guide: When to Block Someone & How to Handle a Social Media Crisis

by Chuck Norton

A social media crisis can happen to just about anyone or any organization. Sometimes they can be a result of a mistake you or your organization has made, or it can come from a mistake made by a media organization, or it can be a deliberate and planned attack.

1. In most cases do not delete the negative comments

While The first instinct is to just delete the offending comments, actually in most cases this is exactly the wrong thing to do. Your good customers and close friends are probably not stupid so an unfair attack will appear just as such to most people who matter to you.

There is ALWAYS a reason why attacks and negative critiques happen. It is NEVER for nothing so getting defensive and reacting in a knee jerk fashion is exactly the wrong thing to do. Blocking and deleting may make you feel better for a few minutes, but such actions can really hurt you in the eyes of others. Why are you facing negative comments and criticism? Find out why as fast as you can, and do so objectively with a willingness to accept fault. It is in your best interest to take critique seriously.

In the case of a real mistake made by you or someone else, something has happened to upset your customers and they are simply expressing themselves to you. Let them vent, really it is therapeutic. The more they vent the more you will learn. This reality is difficult for some to come to terms with. So before you hit DELETE, keep the following in mind:

  • It is in your best interests to have your customers or voters voice their concerns, anger, etc on your web site, Facebook page or other platform that you control.You can monitor it and keep tabs on it.  If you just delete it they will become more angry and post in places that you do not have control. I promise you this is exactly what will happen. It will happen because by blocking you are telling them that you do not care what they have to say or what their feelings are.

Posting my complaint on other blogs and publications when an injustice was done to me is how I dealt with hostile and unfair professors and administrators when I came under unfair attack at Indiana University after “in house” communications proved fruitless. Do not be so foolish as to let a situation come to that as IU did.

2. Respond the RIGHT way. 

People like to have an honest dialogue because it is a sign of respect. They recognize and appreciate the effort of being heard and understood. Show how much you care about them by taking the time to respond to each and every negative comment, concern and question (with exceptions noted in number 5 below). Someone has just vented on you and/or your company/product that you worked hard to produce. Your feelings are hurt and you are not thrilled to respond to them with a positive, understanding, human tone. GET OVER IT. This is not about your feelings rather it is about the best interests of your brand, your company, your product, your profits and about your customers. Take a deep breath and go into with the right attitude or hire someone who can speak for you.

There are seven rules to follow when giving your response:

  • Write a unique and custom response to each comment, complaint, and question. The value of a unique response cannot be stressed enough. A canned response such as “Please address your concern to me at BLAHBLAH@email.com” will be perceived as a complete fail and willmake things worse. Be smart and offer them the option of discussing the issue privately or openly however they wish. It is important to not give the impression that you have something you want to hide.

Politicians often use canned responses that do not really address the concern or genuinely answer the question. Such responses usually make things worse, not better. I have been known to make political contributions and ONE canned letter that does not seriously address my specific question means no donation from me, ever.

  • Make the response sound human, real, sympathetic and not corporate.
  • Does your response actually address the specific concern or question with a real answer? A good way to show that it does is to state the customers specific question in the letter.
  • Avoid “Escape Hatch Language“. Make certain that your answer is not so ambiguous that it can mean most anything (depending clarify your statements later), this means avoiding “escape hatch language” as it is insincere, insulting, and most people will spot it in an instant. Politicians think they are masters of this and I give examples of escape hatch language in a post on my old college blog where use of escape hatch language resulted in a huge PR disaster for President Obama  – LINK.
  • Don’t apologize before having all of the facts. You may make things worse. People will likely catch onto it and your apology will come across as rushed to shut everyone up. You may come across as incompetent because you missed a key fact or fundamental truth.
  • Do not try to hide certain facts or be less than truthful. This also means telling your PR people everything they need to know, not just selected tidbits. If you are caught doing this, in the eyes of the public you are a liar who deserves the label. Indiana University at Indianapolis made a combination of this mistake along with some of the others on this list and ended up with a nationwide PR disaster that they well deserved – LINK  – LINK.
  • When you say you’re sorry, mean it! Show a little humility and make a real apology. Reasonable people know that you are human and stuff happens. If necessary, ask for a way to get in contact with them directly so that you may continue to resolve the problem.

3. React in real-time

See what is happening on your blog or social media page? Well that is how fast you should be responding. It happens in real-time so that is when you need to respond. There’s no time to go through the layers of management and attorneys to “craft” the perfect response to be posted in a day or two because by that time the problem will have snowballed and can be a disaster. It will be too late and too much avoidable damage has already been done (besides that group of people are all too often the last ones you want writing your apology anyway). Show your customers that you care by demonstrating that you understand “the fierce urgency of now”.  You are on top of the situation. Respond to attacks, complaints and questions in real-time.

4. Let your social networking community and satisfied customers stand up for you

You have worked hard at building a relationship with your customers. They can be your best ally. Remember that your competition can likely provide your product or services at a similar price point to you, but since you have worked to have a superior relationship with the customer, client, or voter, some of them will come to your defense. Let them! You have worked hard at building those customer relationships, allow them to come to your defense and help you resolve the situation.

Although negative criticism can be hard to accept, it’s in your best interest to take it seriously, and see it as an opportunity to reconnect with your audience. By taking the time to respond and apologize, you’re showing your customers just how much you value them, and that can go an extremely long way for your brand.

5. When is it OK to delete a comment or start blocking?

There are three circumstances where deletion/blocking is the correct action to take.

  • If and when the comment is so profane and offensive that it violates social and ethical norms. Verbal abuse and threats etc go against social media policies so remove such offending remarks after you screenshot or otherwise archive them. Depending on the circumstances a good practice may be to send the offending individual a private message telling them that their comment has been deleted and why, and that you encourage them to express their point of view in a way that is sociably acceptable.
  • When the complainant is not interested in solving their problem and only wants to complain. We all have dealt with people like this. You have gone as far as reasonability will take you. It is time to move on.
  • When you are under a coordinated attack by a group of people. This happens more often than one might expect. Radical extremists use this tactic a great deal and with some effectiveness. Far left “occupiers”, anarchists, eco-extremists, and some overzealous ideologues use these tactics as a matter of course. At times other companies or even other political campaigns engage in such coordinated attacks simply because you may be a competitor.

When under such attack explain to your community why you are deleting such posts, although at times leaving a few up as an example may actually be helpful. Often times fake Facebook accounts and fake Twitter accounts will be used to make such attacks. Not only should you delete and report them, but such accounts will usually have 15 friends or less; block every one of those friends as the fake account they are posting from may be the very account used to coordinate the attack. They may make new accounts, you just keep blocking. Also, some blogs allow you to track the IP address of every comment. Check and see if the attacks are coming from the same IP address or a specific IP range, if so there are ways your IT pro or web site settings can ban any traffic coming from the offending IP addresses.

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