Managing crises and issues online

Samantha Dancy

Every business has its risks to operations and ultimately your reputation, but this is particularly true of the travel and tourism industry. Nowadays with the rise of social media, flight delays, food poisoning, bad service, booking errors and all manner of other complaints are more visible – and potentially damaging – than ever before.

Just as we learn one new social media platform, more and more spring up or evolve, making them increasingly harder to manage and throwing up a whole host of new issues. So what can we do to help mitigate the risks and protect our reputations online?

1. Anticipate the issues
Communication strategy should form an important part of any business plan, and not just for proactive promotion of messages - it pays to plan for the worst. Take an hour to brainstorm your stakeholders (customers, staff, suppliers, partners, media, influencers) and the most common/likely causes for complaints. Anticipating the problems will allow you to prepare solutions and responses and get them approved in advance.

2. Ensure a credible presence
Effective management of issues relies completely on rapid response. Traditionally PR professionals would ensure media statements were prepared and approved within an hour, now news breaks on Twitter and you need to be ready to respond immediately. Ensure you have profiles set up and that you actively use them - a crisis is not the time to start trying to establish a social media presence, and responding to a crisis with no previous activity on that channel does not give the best impression of your company.

3. Listen
There are a myriad of monitoring platforms available where you can quickly and easily review any mention of your brand or products. Platforms such as Hootsuite allow you to track your chosen keywords across different social media networks. These early detection systems can be a simple and effective way of locating a complaint and responding before it has time to develop into a bigger issue with a wider audience.

4. Respond appropriately
It’s inevitable that somebody at some point is going to complain about your business, and they’re going to do it in public. It’s important to remain detached to evaluate what the issue is, and if it’s justified, before planning your response. Bearing in mind that the customer is always right, it’s also important to recognise that trolls exist and there are people out there who may well just be having a bad day and looking to vent. Ensure to acknowledge the issue immediately, be personal and concerned but try not to be defensive or overly apologetic - keep a professional tone at all times.

5. Take it offline
The most important thing to remember when responding to complaints and issues online is that whilst it needs to be publicly acknowledged (to show that you are listening and care), the dialogue does not need to be in the public domain and should be taken offline as soon as possible. Whether this is through private messages on Facebook, DM’s on Twitter, or simply by telephone or email, the easiest thing to do is to ask the person in question for their preferred contact details so that you can get some more information in order to look into it properly - often this is enough reassurance that you are taking the matter seriously.

6. Never hide
Everybody wants their public image to be sparkling, but don’t be tempted to remove what could be construed as negative content from your social media sites. Every complaint and issue is a great opportunity to publicly demonstrate your fantastic customer service and commitment. Plus, public profiles with mixed sentiment are much more authentic than those with a list of glowing reviews, and are therefore likely to be more trusted. Pretending that the issues don’t exist is only likely to enrage the person who complained and provoke them to take it further on platforms that you may not be able to control.

7. Engage others
If you are using social media effectively, you should have an active and engaged community of brand advocates behind you, in this cases when a complaint is made, it is often these advocates who respond in defense of the brand. This is obviously the strongest form of endorsement and is quite easily achieved from ensuring you have an active and engaged community in the first place - they’re not called fans and followers for nothing!

With some simple preparation and a bit of human empathy, most issues should be easily manageable. Don’t just forget the cause of the however, ensure that action is taken within operations to prevent future complaints. Even the most effective communicators cannot contain issues if there are genuinely problems within the business, yet if managed properly, any issue can become invaluable feedback towards business development and innovation.

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