Is your business active on social media? Have you ever had a negative comment? Do you have a plan in place to handle customer complaints or negative feedback which may come in via social media?

Having a clear customer service and complaint management system for your social media is essential in today’s increasingly online world.

Establishing methods to be aware of any issues, and responding quickly and appropriately to negative social comments can help you increase customer loyalty and retention.

So what can your business do to prevent, prepare, respond and recover from a social media complain, or even worse, a crisis?


“A social media crisis is a significant increase in the number of brand mentions through online and social channels that have negative sentiment or are damaging to the brand’s reputation and market share.”

There have been many examples of social media crisis in recent years. Some very public ones include:


In what they hoped would lead to a Twitter trend, McDonald’s attempted to engage with customers through the hashtags #meetthefarmers and #mcdstories. Unfortunately for the fast food giant, it backfired quite spectacular, with Twitter users posting negative #mcdstories. In fact, they weren’t just negative stories, they were truly awful tales of fast food nightmares. They later admitted it wasn’t just a great idea: “#mcdstories did not go as planned.”


Dreamworld owner Ardent Leisure’s share price plummeted 22 per cent the day after the accident at the Gold Coast theme park that caused the death of four visitors and the event is widely considered a PR crisis. Crisis managers said Dreamworld made five key mistakes in the first 48 hours after the crisis. Putting forward Dreamworld chief executive Craig Davidson as the spokesperson, rather than company chief executive Deborah Thomas, in the first critical days after the incident demonstrated that management failed to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

Ardent’s other major mistakes included pushing ahead with the company AGM when a vote on an $860,000 bonus for Ms Thomas could have been deferred. The decision to reopen Dreamworld for a memorial service was made too soon and the company was forced into another embarrassing backdown after police advised the park was still a crime scene. The company’s media conference then derailed after Ms Thomas was caught out over questions on why the company had not contacted the families of the victims. Finally, questions remained over Mr Balnaves retirement as chairman, when the company was in the midst of the crisis. There was plenty to be said on all of the above on social media and via news channels.


The prevention, preparedness, response and recovery (PPRR) model is a comprehensive approach to risk management. This model has been used by Australian emergency management agencies for decades and can save your business time and money when responding to a setback, incident or disaster.

It can apply to handling social media complaints and crisis too. After all, having someone complain or even worse having a crisis on social media can be a big risk and have a big impact on a business!

You can use the PPRR model to put plans in place BEFORE a social media crisis happens and anticipate possible direct impacts to your business, and impacts on your suppliers and customers, which may flow on to your business.

PPRR stands for:

Prevention – which is always better than cure!

Preparedness – how prepared are you to handle a social media complaint or crisis?

Response – If there is an incident, how will you/your business respond?

Recovery – If there is an incident, and you have responded appropriate, how will you recover thereafter?

You can read more about this model here.


There are many things which can set off a social media complaint or crisis and these can generally be categorised into the following:

Traditional internal triggers:

  • Investigation, lawsuit, fine, settlement
  • Management change/dismissal
  • Product defect/recall
  • Employee complaint/issue
  • Workplace injury/fatality

Traditional external triggers:

  • Natural disaster
  • Terrorist/criminal threat/incident
  • Activist issue/protest
  • Consumer complaint/issue
  • Competitor threat

Social media triggers:

  • Poor customer service
  • Poor marketing practices
  • Poor public and influencer relations
  • Poor governance


In order to be prepared for a social media crisis the first thing you need to do is start listening. It’s a good idea to position your business better for responding to a social media complaint or crisis by setting up alerts on your business on mention.net for anything related to the business such as product names or the name of the CEO for starters.

Hootsuite is another fantastic social media monitoring tool. We’ve been using Hootsuite for years at The Creative Collective and love it not only for it;’s monitoring but also for its ability to schedule posts in advance to all social channels, including Instagram now! It also provides a rich set of metrics for analysis of the impact of your social media activity.

Surround yourself with people who are ready to mobilise.

Identifying influencers you could call on in a crisis, before a crisis happens, is also good idea. And, you need to define roles and responsibilities too. Whose role is it to monitor & identify complaints & crises? Whose role is it to respond to complaints & crises? Who should complaints and crises be escalated to? What other departments may need to be utilised in a crisis?

We’d recommend creating a list of emergency contacts, for example, legal, PR, corporate communications, management, board which is updated regularly, accessible and people are aware of. Educate all relevant people, and rehearse a few scenarios or do drills as a fun, but somewhat serious team building exercise.



If a crisis does happen, timing is everything. 89% of customers are ‘more satisfied’ when they get a quick response but you do need to respond carefully. Be attentive: think and act like a 5-star concierge.

Be empathetic: show people you care about helping and making things right, which wasn’t something Dreamworld did particularly well in the crisis outlined earlier in this blog. Be authentic: reinforce the brand, but act like a human. If someone has died, feel their pain.

Be insightful: identify the real issue — cause vs. symptoms and manage expectations: on timing and potential outcomes. Work with different teams to deliver a resolution and welcome different perspectives but also have an executive decision maker.

When all is said and done, it’s time to recover!

When everything is said and done it’s time to take stock again. Were you prepared for that crisis? Did you respond well? What have you learnt from the experience? What would you do differently next time? Document complaints and crisis for later reference and training opportunities. Unpack the crisis with other team members or professionals. Run more training to build further skills. Analyse impact and results.

Want more information on social media crises and complaints?

Join us on Wed 25th July at 12:30pm Qld time when our founder Yvette Adams, will be hosting a webinar on this topic.… Follow the link to register.…