16 ways to handle bad news

 1/26/2017 12:00:00 AM
Views: 7,162
8 Minutes, 34 Second
 Written By John Marx
Tags:Social Media, Business

16 ways to handle bad news

The best marketing plans whether written for digital or in the real-world can go bad. Those that maintain social media accounts always dread and even fear when news gets out and goes viral that is negative (we never complain when it is a positive interactions). What if that information goes beyond online and into the real-world? We are going to cover many of the high-level items that need to happen when something bad happens. It could be solely online, offline (print, television, radio, or even verbal), or a combination of the two. We are going to cover some of the higher level the dos and don'ts that you need to be cognizant of when dealing with these types of problems..

Take a deep breath and calm down

This may seem like an odd thing to first recommend in the list but a calm and level head needs to prevail in this situation and quickly responding could add fuel to the fire and make a bad situation worse.

Have a plan of attack

Before you have anything go viral in a bad way (or maybe not even viral) there should be an established plan on how it will be handled. If you do not have a plan of attack and are going to "wing it" you need to come up with something a little more definitive and substantial.

Take it offline (unless it is already offline)

Having bad news about your business is never a good thing. Whenever possible do not feed the fire by attacking the person(s) that are involved. Do not feed anything to them. Try to extinguish the problem at hand as quickly as you can. Whenever possible we ask people to contact us (e.g. the company we are representing) via phone or in-person. We prefer in-person as that way we can read body language and see how much this upsets them.

Note: Do not invite someone over if there are threats against the business or its employees. In that case contact the police immediately and let them see what has transpired.

Don't take it personally

The adage the customer is always right is always at the front of our mind. The customer may not always be right but they are the customer and their expectations should be tried to be met each time. When a person has a complaint, they are venting and want to be heard. In some ways, you should be glad this is happening and that you can address it. They could always do it offline and negative information travels like wildfire.


Many problems can be resolved just by listening. We had a client at a restaurant have a bad review about staff and the manager that was working at the time. Since we are handling their social media and had a plan for these types of situations we took immediate action.

  • We first took it offline so that everyone reading could see the business was taking the matter seriously and that ended this problem online.
  • We didn't stop there as we listened to the person and their concern which after listening to it was a concern to us.
  • We started creating a report for our client.
  • Being we knew the schedule of the restaurant we took the person to lunch, at the restaurant in question, when we knew the manager wouldn't be there as we didn't want to create a hostile environment for anyone.
  • This was our treat as well for taking the time out of their busy schedule so that we could more accurately report information for our client.
  • As we went through we continued talking and learned they loved many aspects but was the feel the company was doing.
  • This was against everything the owner believed in and we knew this would be solved.
  • After the meeting, we finished our review and sat down with the owner.
  • The owner didn't realize the problem and within two days all the concerns they were capable of fixing were fixed.
  • We followed up the issue with a new blog post and used the changes as a positive change for everyone which created a great, and positive, reaction on Facebook.

That person I can say has gone back many times and is quite happy and has posted many positive reviews about the restaurant since they were listened to and their concerns were addressed. Not every situation is this way but this is a way we try to turn negative into something positive.

Show empathy to the problem

We often see where businesses respond and don't show empathy to the person. We are not computers or machines. Each of us are human with our own unique feelings. Make certain you truly are responsive to the needs of those that are complaining. Deep down whether you feel it is justified or not the matter means a lot to them.

Definition of empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings with another.

Be professional and mature

We often see the children of family members handling the social media. We don't feel this is the right thing to do as this is a piece of your marketing machine and the continuation of your company's brand. Young adults may know social media and may even know it better than their adult counterparts. What they are lacking though is the maturity to be rational and politically correct in their responses back on certain situations even if they first consult the parental figure that is running the company.

Land of sarcasm

Sarcasm should never be part of your response unless you run a company that specializes in sarcasm. This can come off as disrespectful and lacking empathy to the person with the problem. Along these lines do not joke or take the concern as a joke.

You might not want to respond

Not every instance needs a response. Sometimes saying nothing can be more beneficial than saying anything. We do always recommend replying with an apology for their feeling the way they do but sometimes that will work against you. This goes back to your plan of attack from above on which instances you should reply to and those that you don't.

Act quickly when something goes wrong

There is nothing worse than checking your Facebook or other account and notice days, weeks, or even months later you missed something and your brands reputation is scared because of it.

Look at more than just Facebook

Items that can go wrong with your business happen more than just on Facebook. This is a great avenue for many but this is not the only place you can learn about negative information about your business.

Setup a Google Alerts for your brand and industry keywords you feel that your brand might be mentioned in. You will need a Google account to do this. You can access the Google Alerts page at https://www.google.com/alerts.

To DELETE or not delete

This is a common question and by default the choice should not be to delete. Social media is a public forum and is designed for engagement by everyone. When your default policy is to delete it looks like you are trying to hide something and bring more credit to the person. Below is a short list of reasons you may want to delete a post.

  • If the information is a threat on someone's life contact the police before deleting and seek their advice and guidance. They may need that for their case.
  • If the item is racist or threatening. First grab a screen shot with the rest in case it is needed by law enforcement. Better yet contact the police, let them see it and go off of their guidance.
  • Lewd or graphic posts. Social media networks will do their best but you are the final say. If it is offensive and against who you are as a company and brand it may be worth considering removing the post.
  • Personal information that should not be there for anyone to see.
  • If you can easily tell an account was hacked.

Hand off the problem

We are not saying ignore it or passing it to the newest person in the company. What we are saying is if you work for the company and the information is very critical about the company you are vested in this company and will do everything you possibly can to defend it. This is where having a social media account manager who doesn't work directly for the company is extremely beneficial. They are your virtual employee for sure but they are less attached to the company and can more objectively listen, have empathy, and provide a more calm and rational decision to the problem.

Having a social media policy

When we started, we said you should have a policy for handling bad situations. You should have an overall policy as well for the positive, daily posts, who is responsible, etc. This sets the chain of command for handling any situation.

Use the negative to turn a positive

Like our restaurant example above we stated that a negative can be used as a positive improvement in your company and the view of your company brand. Take any negative (and positive) experience and use them to improve your brand to become better.


Often an "I am sorry" or "we made a mistake" is all someone wants to hear. Be true and honest when you say it. If you are false or just saying it to say it people will catch on which can result in even more bad comments.


You can see there's a lot of information about handling bad viral content which can seem scary if not handled right. The great thing is that positive content has always performed and lasted compared to negative content. We feel that is because most companies want to know about the good information and why we constantly focus on the positives in life.

When you are ready to have a company that is focused on your growth and ready to help you out in your online digital marketing the team at JM2 Webdesigners is ready to assist you. We can be reach at @BUSINESSPHONETOLLFREE@, email at @BUSINESSEMAILADDRESS@, or through our online contact form here.

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