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Social media can be both a blessing and a curse for businesses. On the one hand, it gives you personalized and nearly constant access to customers and gives your company a friendly and helpful voice. On the other hand, it’s all too easy for a company or its employees to make a careless mistake that can go viral and do damage to your reputation. Therefore, it’s important to have a social media crisis management plan in place before things go awry.

A crisis management plan will ensure that you’re not caught flat-footed when it comes to a potentially damaging situation. It also can actually be good for business. After all, everyone makes mistakes, and the way your business responds to them can be quite telling. A company that is upfront, honest and even a bit humorous will always win out over one that responds with defensiveness or anger. That said, here are some things to employ in your crisis management strategy.

Keep Tabs on Your Social Sites

Someone within your company should be monitoring your social media sites on a regular basis. This way, you can be aware of any problems that may arise before they skyrocket to damaging proportions. By simply paying attention to social chatter, you have the ability to nip problems in the bud. Whatever department or person you have monitoring your accounts should also be in charge of damage control. It helps to have a team in place before problems occur.

Stop the Damage Before it Starts

In 2013, global entertainment retailer HVM had to deal with a social media crisis after laid-off marketing employees sent out caustic messages over the company’s Twitter account. This caused major problems for the company, which had recently entered bankruptcy and was in the process of reorganizing. The tweets went viral, doing damage to its already shaky reputation. The worst part? It could have been prevented.

First and foremost, all of your company’s social media channels and accounts should be consolidated into a management system in order to make it easy to monitor. There are programs out there, such as HootSuite, which can help you do that. Also, control employee access to these accounts. Limit permissions to key employees, such as senior management only. If something does leak out, make sure you have passwords at hand to shut down the account and stop any more damage from occurring.

Being Open and Honest, Not Deceptive and Defensive

You will likely come across some complaints or negative comments on your social sites. The way in which you respond to them is very telling about your company. Do not remove these comments, because that will be noticed and brought to light. Your company will appear as if it is ignoring the problem or that it does not really care what customers think. Say you have a lawn pest control service who has a customer who is upset that you didn’t have a product in stock, and is taking their anger out on your Facebook page. Instead of saying something like “well, you really should have called first,” take the high road and apologize politely.

Address any problems or complaints in a kind and respectful manner. Be upfront about what happened. “We are so sorry that your order did not go through. We had a glitch in our software this morning and it affected some orders. The problem is now fixed and our system is up and running again.” By simply addressing the problem, your company will come off as caring and invested in customer satisfaction.

Above all, never be rude, even if you disagree with a customer. It’s not just that one person you are addressing, but everyone who reads that particular post. If someone is truly being difficult, address the problem in a professional manner and move on.

These tips should help your company deal in the best possible way with social media snafus. Remember, mistakes will happen, but if you have a solid plan in place you will be able to deal with them without panicking or making the situation worse.