How NOT to Handle a Social Media Crisis

Sur-Ryl Marketing

Social media — and managing public relations — doesn’t always come easy for small business owners.
Maybe you’ve even agonized over how to best respond to a critical customer or handle a negative review. Using kindness and common sense can go a long way in managing a social media crisis. Unfortunately, not everyone understands that principle. Least of all, the small business owner involved in this developing story. Her experience can give you some insight into how NOT to manage issues that come up online.

The story begins in the physical world, when teenager Casey Parham went with a friend into a Kiawah Island, N.C., boutique near her family’s vacation home. Parham, who is black, was looking at a wallet when she heard an employee non-discreetly refer to her as a “shoplifter” and mockingly laugh at her. The incident upset her, so she quickly left the store without buying the wallet — or anything else. When she got home she shared her experience with her mom, Rene Syler.

Syler, a former journalist, then shared details about the encounter at the boutique, called Carolina Girls, on her Facebook page. News of the experience – and more concerning, the way it was handled – led to Syler’s friends and followers also posting negative feedback on the Carolina Girls’ Facebook page. Syler has posted the entire account to her blog to show how the company has handled the complaint.

As a small business owner, news like this can be anxiety-causing. What if someone — or several people — posted about a negative experience like this on your social media channels? How would you handle it? Are you prepared for a social media crisis?

Our advice: don’t follow Carolina Girls’ lead. Here’s a quick rundown of the actions they took, how it was perceived from a customer perspective and what you should avoid doing if you find yourself in the midst of a social media crisis.

1. “If we ignore it, it will go away”

Carolina Girls ignored or deleted Facebook comments until they got so numerous that there was no easy way to address them. To manage the situation, the company deleted their entire Facebook page (which has since be reinstated).

Your lesson: Have an existing, written plan for how to respond to critical feedback. Check your social media accounts frequently so you can respond as planned and keep things under control.

2. “We’ve investigated ourselves and found that there was no wrongdoing on our part”

Carolina Girls claimed they had conducted a thorough investigation — though they never talked to Parham or her mom.

Your lesson: Always make sure you communicate with the complaining customer and that you understand exactly what happened. If you have been accused of a serious problem, such as in this case, make sure your communication happens in person or by phone — don’t rely solely on social media.

3. “Sucks that you had that experience…but it wasn’t our fault”

Carolina Girls did issue an apology, but blamed a customer for saying the offensive statement and used language that indicated they didn’t believe Parham’s story.

Your lesson: Once you have talked to the customer who was treated poorly, you can come up with a plan of action to make it right. This can be something as simple as a phone call or a handwritten note acknowledging their experience and your desire to not only correct the wrong, but make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

When publicly apologizing, either on social media or through an official statement, be direct and explain what happened and what you’ve done to correct the issue. If you need help crafting a sincere and professional response, hire a social media expert or public relations specialist to assist you. Depending on the severity of the situation, you might also consider contacting an attorney before making any public statement.

4. “We’ll just post some positive reviews to offset your negative ones”

Someone who may or may not have been affiliated with the company set up fake social media accounts to post to Syler’s Facebook page and create Yelp reviews.

Your lesson: Monitor feedback anywhere it may be left for the duration of public relations crisis. Report accounts that claim to represent you and do not. Never be dishonest or create fake accounts to tell your story.

The Carolina Girls debacle is still ongoing. The company’s owner recently released a statement mentioning that she’s willing to do what it takes to correct the situation; however, it’s notable that a quick, professional response at the onset could have done a lot to keep this issue from exploding into the news. If you’re faced with a crisis, reach out and open the lines of communication as soon as you can so you can prevent a bad situation from becoming worse.

Our new tool, SM Reviews, helps business owners monitor, manage and quickly respond to reviews from all the top review websites in one dashboard, allowing them to promptly respond to a customer service issue before it becomes a crisis.

Do you have any tips or suggestions that have helped you avoid or overcome a social media crisis? Share them in the comments section below.

Need help developing a social media plan that includes guidelines for how to manage a social media crisis? Contact us to get started.


  1. Chrinstine on August 16, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

  2. Sur-Ryl Marketing - Be Strategic. Get Results. on September 22, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    […] our last blog post, How NOT to Handle a Social Media Crisis, we discussed what not to do on social media. Now, let’s talk about ways you can use it […]

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