How to Break Hard News on Social Media
Sooner or later, your company may have to break some hard news on social media. You might have to announce something heartbreaking or catastrophic to the business, like the passing of your visionary CEO, or something smaller yet potentially rage-inducing, like if you’re about to increase membership dues for current customers.
Whatever the case, social media is a useful tool because it allows you to communicate with all your fans at once, while still managing individual conversations where necessary or appropriate. But if you want to manage the blowback, and retain control of the narrative, you’ll need to employ a few important strategies.
Make the Announcement on Multiple Platforms Simultaneously
You want to be in control of what people read, and when and how they read it. Accordingly, even if social media is your primary communication channel, it’s important to make the announcement or disclosure in multiple channels simultaneously. For example, make posts on multiple social outlets, write a statement on your website, and send an email to your customers all at the same time; you may even want to send out a press release. This way, you reach the greatest number of people directly.
Be Concise and Direct
You may be tempted to “beat around the bush,” or soften the blow of the news by stating it ambiguously, but this almost always hurts you in the long run. It’s much more effective to make a concise, direct statement. It conveys your message faster and more accurately, and also makes your organization seem more transparent—you aren’t trying to hide anything.
Choose Your Words Carefully
On social media, your words are semi-permanent, and if customers are angry or taken aback, they’re going to scrutinize every word. Choose these words carefully. For example, back in 2017, United Airlines came under fire when videos began to circulate, showing United Airlines authorities violently dragging a man off a plane. Originally turning to social media to address the negative PR blowback, CEO Oscar Munoz stated, “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.” As you can imagine, people immediately attacked him for using the phrase “re-accommodate.” Eventually, they rolled out a much more thoughtful statement: “We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”
Clarify Your Motivations (if Applicable)
If you’re announcing something you know will be controversial, like if you’re raising prices, it may be appropriate to clarify your motivations. For example, you might explain that you’re increasing subscription rates because you’re expanding your service coverage, or because you’re adding new perks for subscribers.
Apologize (if Applicable)
If you’re admitting to a mistake, or if you’re announcing plans to make up for something negative, it’s important to apologize. Admitting that you did something wrong may seem like a step backward, but it actually shows honesty, integrity, and transparency. People are much kinder to organizations who freely own up to their mistakes than they are to organizations who try to claim they’ve never done anything wrong.
Don’t Be Bullied Into an Action
Outrage mobs are hard to control; if your brand is prominent enough and your announcement is controversial enough, you may have a full-blown social media rebellion on your hands. If that happens, you may feel bullied into rescinding the statement, or taking some action as dictated by your followers. While it’s natural to want to make your fans and customers happy, this sets a bad precedent; you’re better off sticking to your original vision in most cases. Social media outrage mobs tend to have short-term memories, sot hey might forget all about it within a day or two.
Try to Address Every Response
Social media is at its most powerful when used as a tool for human-to-human interactions, so make the most of it. If people ask questions, make comments, or engage with your brand in other ways, engage with them in kind. Try to address every response if you can. Similarly, avoid blocking, burying, or minimizing reactions; if someone is particularly negative or scathing, you may be tempted to hide their comment from public eyes, but you’re better off withstanding it and addressing it. This way, you’ll preserve your brand’s image of transparency and integrity.
It’s never easy to break hard news on social media, but if executed correctly, you can preserve—or even improve your reputation. Think carefully before you start typing, and try to coordinate all your efforts. If you’re prepared for the worst, you’ll be able to handle any scenario, and emerge from the flurry of responses in a better position than you started.
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