Social Media For Public Relations: How To Manage Terrible Situations

Social Media  For Public Relations

Social Media is an amazing tool. However, it can be a nightmare for your business if it goes wrong.

We see it happen all the time, poor customer service ends up becoming a social media post that goes viral, and your company suffers. This article will teach you how to use social media for public relations and in particular, how to manage a terrible situation as it happens.

Social Media Customer Service Fails​

We have all seen and experienced some bad customer service, and in the past, we were subjected to going through the organisation or companies dull and often very slow customer service complaints procedure

It was as if companies didn't care about the problems their customers had because they made it so difficult for consumers to tell them.

Forget that now because social media has given power to the consumer. Consumers can go on-line and vent their frustrations real time and how you handle them is key to either keeping a customer or turning thousands off your business forever.

In a superb report from Fishburn Hedges on the nature of customer services care we see data that every business needs to take seriously:

40% of the public feel that social media improves customer service

65% believe social media is a better way to communicate with companies than call centres

68% that have used social media channels to communicate with brands believe it gives them greater customer “voice.”​


Like it or not social media is here to stay, and your business needs to find a way of handling it.​

Of course it is not just dealing with incoming complaints that you have to worry about, you can, of course, have the opposite issue to consider. What you post as a company can cause serious damage to your brand.

In this excellent article from the search engine journal we see a huge list of 35 social media customer service fails that highlight this issue. Some of the worst were:

American Apparel used a Hurricane to try and make a sale

and then......

There was the time that HMV went into administration and sacked the social media team and a lot of other staff without getting the passwords for the Twitter account changed. The result was a blow by blow account of the collapse of HMV.

Social media customer service best practices: How To Stop A complaint Going Viral​

In this great article  Ryan Holmes CEO at HootSuite gives clear advice to manage and prevent a social media customer service disaster.

One of the key points in the article he states "Customer service in the age of social media, however, needs to be everyone’s job."

You heard it right; it needs to be everyone's job and not just the role of the social media team. From senior management to the front desk staff, everyone has a role to play.

It might not be a case of those staff members responding to the comments on-line. However early warnings might be useful to the social media team, or perhaps you think the team have missed something really bad on-line such as a complaint or  a negatuve comment,  it is essential that people let the right team know. We are in this together!

But how exactly do you keep a post from going viral? Follow these 3 steps.

1. Early Intervention

2. Communication

3. Positive Emergency Campaigns​

Early Intervention​

The quicker you resolve a complaint, the better it will be for you. Do not wait to get approval from your line manager, simply get involved in the conversation by showing some empathy.

"Hi sorry you have had an issue please email customerservice@ xyz and let us help us to resolve the issue to your satisfaction, alternatively send us a direct message."

A message like this doesn't promise anything, but it tells the consumer and their audience that you want to resolve things for them. Once this is done get your line manager or a person who can authorise things to support you in this situation.​

Communication ​

If you fail to communicate with the customer and your audience, then you will see things explode.

9 to 5 Communication simply doesn't work anymore,   you have issues if your customer service team is at home watching EastEnders and on line your business is getting bashed, you need to make a plan that works to solve this.

Create an on-call rota for your social media team that can monitor social media from 7 am until Midnight. Speed up your social media customer service response time and your customer service will improve leaps and bounds

Your social media team should all have access to a document that tells them what to do and what power they have to resolve a situation at any time. 

Create examples that can help them in the report so there are no mistakes.

For a supermarket chain it might look like this:

Problem- Unsatisfied customer complained on Facebook with a photo of Rotten Food  

Response: Take this conversation offline, engage with them out of public view, via direct message or email but be clear that any message can be screen captured and reposted by the same user.

Suggested solution: Apologize and offer a refund and a voucher if they bring the goods back today.

It doesn't have to be robotic but it does have to share your business values, and it is essential that your social media and customer service team are on the same hymn sheet.

​Positive Emergency Campaigns

You need to have several break glass in case of emergency campaigns ready to launch at a moments notice because when you are getting slated on-line you will  need something to soften the blow. An example of this could be that your business is on the receiving end of a scandal, don't just sit there and let this scandal over shadow everything you do, get posting your campaign which shows the great things your business has done this year.  

My suggestion is  that you need to have these positive campaigns saved for a 'rainy day' but when a  storm hits you should have plenty at your disposal to flood your timeline and ​reduce the negativity. 

Examples of Social Media Customer Service

Good social media customer service takes time and effort and some great examples are required to see how you can improve your efforts. is a good example of this.

 Nike has set up an actual Twitter account to handle their support issues, great for resolving complaints.

Wallmart is another great example of customer service.With 32 Million Facebook Fans, they sure do have their work cut out for them.

In this post ( see pic) we see some complaints high jacking a post they have created. Instead of being argumentative or even worse hiding away they are straight on the case.

socila media for public  relations

Complainant: The return policy online seems to be totally different from the return policy that the Hallandale Beach store follows. I wasted time walking to the store to return a tension rod to this specific 24hour location to be apathetically told that I cant return anything unless its between 7 AM and 10 PM. The first two sentences in the official policy contradict each other completely. "Our goal is to satisfy our customers by exchange, refund, or repair, as outlined in this policy. Walmart reserves the right to limit or decline returns or exchanges regardless of whether you have a receipt".Like · Reply · 2 hrs

​Walmart: We are sorry to hear your frustration with the hours of our return desk, Star. Can you please share your feedback with the store manager?Like · Reply · 2 hrs

Complainant: Walmart I called multiple times after my trek home. I guess nobody likes to use the phone there.Like · Reply · 2 hrs

Walmart Hi - Generally, returns and exchanges are handled in the Customer Service desk at your local store. While most Walmart stores are open 24 hours, however, please note that some departments like Customer Service Center, Money Center, Pharmacy, Jewelry, Deli and Bakery have their own specific hours of operation. We apologize for the inconvenience. Furthermore, we suggest that you share your feedback regarding our policy at: so we can evaluate this matter further, as we continue to enhance our service offerings to our customers.​

​By anyone's standards, this was a great example of customer service. However with 32 Million fans, you will not keep everyone happy, but it is, a great chance to showcase that you take the customers views seriously.

In this video social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk gives his advice: Gary states that his advice for 2016 is to consider every customer as a media company.

​Another key aspect of dealing with is the amplified negative effect of the lifetime worth of a customer.

To make this seem more real consider that if you handle any complaint badly, you could lose that customer for life. So if they spend £100 per week with your store, over thirty years, you have lost £36,000 in revenue from that one customer.

Imagine if their complaint on social media causes you to lose 100 customers that didn't like your approach or solution to that complaint.Well, you have just dropped £3,600,000 in future revenue for your company in one social media complaint.

You need to take social media marketing seriously!

​Social Media Customer Service Training

Andrew Holland head at Zoogly giving business owners advice

If you do not already offer social media customer service training to your staff, then you should do.

Being behind a screen takes away the personal nature of a complaint, and you need to train your staff on how to treat that person as a real human being instead of a small image on their screen.

My approach to this is simple. Tell your staff to become the complainant. Look at things from their point of view and not the companies.

There are of course many facets to dealing with people on-line but talk to them as if you were Face to face and in front of your boss and a few million people because that is pretty much what is really happening, expect when you are on-line you can't see those people looking at you!


It is important that you use social media for public relations but you need to understand just how damaging misuse and poor communication can be. If you get social media wrong you risk not only losing that customer but also many others who see how you handle their complaints on-line. 

If you need help or support regarding your social media training then please contact Zoogly Media and we will be able to help you, and to make sure you get more great articles like this one please subscribe below.


Andrew Holland

Zoogly Media ​