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Some brands have experienced the power of social media in a very positive way, while others have found themselves dealing with unexpected negative fallout.

To prevent a social media slip-up, businesses should have a social media policy in place, they need to designate an experienced community manager, and they must put a plan in place for dealing with negative comments.

That said, in the fast paced, knee-jerk-reaction world of social media, things still happen. The key is to be ready for the worst if something starts to heat up and gain negative traction as they have in countless examples noted here, here, here ... and here.

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There are two key PR problems you might have to deal with on social media:

  • When you post something you shouldn’t have.
  • When something happened offline that was taken online and exploded from there.

There are also many examples of big brand campaigns that were turned upside down when interpreted or twisted in an unexpected way. It happens to the biggest and best of them. Here are some quick tips on how to deal with these situations:

Take ownership and apologize

Address the issue quickly, personally and directly. Speed and honesty are two traits customers value most. Some issues are of immense proportions, but there will always be people who thrive off lashing out online because they can, even when the issue seems minor.

Learn to differentiate between what might start to heat up versus a single troll with an agenda causing you grief.

Show that the problem has been fixed or that there are people working to remedy it

It's not enough to say "sorry:" You need to show or tell people how you are making sure that whatever happened will never, ever happen again.

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Keep emotion out of it

When your business is being attacked, you will take it personally, and that's hard to avoid if you care about your business, your reputation and your customers. When dealing with an already emotional situation or emotional people lashing out from behind a keyboard, it's best to maintain a cool head and to never let your feelings disrupt what should be professional and level-headed responses.

It's easier to recover from a social PR issue if you have a long history of professionalism and great customer service both on and off social media.

Just because these things can happen, doesn't mean they will, and the potential of a gaffe or receiving negative comments shouldn't prevent your business from being active on social platforms. The conversation will happen with or without you, so it's best that you're there to be part of it, and to tell your side of every story.

Questions? Feel free to post them below or to contact me directly.

Lisa Ostrikoff is a TV journalist and anchor-turned-creator of BizBOXTV, a Canadian online video production, advertising and social media marketing agency. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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