What local small businesses can learn from the US Airways tweet

This cat looks worried because he's screwed up online and doesn't know what to doThere was a bit of a uproar last week about a U.S airline that tweeted a (definitely) NSFW picture during a response to a customer.

I’m not linking to the photo but I’m sure a bit of Googling could find it if you really wanted. (Hint, you don’t really want to find it.)

What I wanted to discuss today wasn’t the actual photo or how the incident occurred – lots of pixels have died in that discussion already.

No, I wanted to discuss how you, as a local small business owner, should respond if something goes wrong for you online.

The first thing to remember

It can happen to you.

It is easy to think that these things only happen to big brands with inexperienced interns, overworked communications personnel or disgruntled employees (and as a side note, are employees ever ‘gruntled’?).

However, small businesses can have inexperienced personnel (you), overworked personnel (you) and disgruntled employees (hopefully not you!) too. And things can go wrong even without you realising it.

So what’s the best way to react if you do something wrong online?

Follow the three F’s (and believe me these come from experience!):

1. Accept that you’ve Eff’d up. This is probably the easiest step to follow! You can see that you’ve made a mistake, now to do something about it.

2. Prepare to ‘Fess up. Apologise straight away for the action that occurred. Depending on what you’ve said (or the photo that might have been attached), this apology will vary in difficulty, but regardless it has to be done.

Keep it short, to the point and use words like “We’re/I’m sorry for this update” NOT “We apologise if any offence was caused”. Obviously offence was caused otherwise why are you taking it down?

3. Time to Fix it up. As tempting as it might seem to remove all evidence of your indiscretion only delete the update if it was truly, truly awful (think drunk texting at 3am or NSFW photos sent out publicly awful).

If that is the case, explain why you’re removing the update but don’t just delete it without an explanation. Remember there’s no such thing as a deleted online history, someone will always have a screenshot ready!

Also, explain what steps you’re taking to make sure this action will not happen again – for example you’ll be turning the phone off after a couple of wines in future.

What if there’s more fallout?

Sometimes there might be more fallout from your action and your customers or readers want more information / discussion.

Always try to take the discussion offline (or out of the public eye) as soon as possible in that case.

You will get more ‘breathing space’ this way. It is much easier to respond to issues through email; Skype or even face-to-face conversations than in a 140 characters or even a Google+ post. You can provide supporting documentation too in a way that’s just not possible online.

Taking it out of the public eye provides privacy too. If the error impacted on a customer’s confidential information then don’t compound the error by continuing to discuss it in public. Take it out of the public domain and discuss it properly with them.

Got questions about whether your small business is ready to handle an online crisis? Drop me a line or get in touch via Google+

I’d love to know your thoughts on this article. Meet me over on Google+ to join the conversation right now! 



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