Social Backlash: Oops, Why Did I Say That?

We all make mistakes. Occasionally, your “PC” filter wasn’t on or you weren’t aware of a social rule, and you post something causing a social backlash. Or even worse—one of your employees does or says something out of your control that starts a spiral of negative activity online. What do you do?? Just remember, throwing your computer isn’t an option, and you certainly won’t be hiding in the pantry until it blows over. You have to react and fast! 

This happened to me a few years ago when working for a large rural-based company. One of our locations was visited by a bus full of veterans from the local VFW post and, when we asked them to move the bus so it wasn’t blocking the whole parking lot, the uproar began. Somehow, the bus driver thought we were asking them to leave rather than move the bus to the other side of the building. All of a sudden, we are flooded with Facebook comments and messages accusing us of hating veterans and claiming we didn’t support the troops—along with a slew of profanities and hate. It was terrible! This was NOT our intention whatsoever, but people didn’t care. The fire was lit, and it blazed for days.

Don’t Get Worked Up!

Everyone in the office was upset and wanted to respond in their own way, but it was my job, the last person who wanted to approach the topic. As I told myself that day, you have to remain calm and remember they aren’t personally attacking you, even though it feels like it. 

After a call to the business under fire, I got two firsthand accounts of the incident to make sure someone wasn’t terribly rude and hateful for no good reason. Once I found these accusations were false, the real work began. For five straight days, I did almost nothing but respond to comments, messages, emails and website inquiries trying to save face and explain how the incident occurred. But, as we know, it’s hard to convince someone once they have their mind set. 

What Do You Say to The Backlash?

Crafting a kind and understanding, yet firm and straightforward response to social backlash takes some finesse. How do you let people know you care without sounding disingenuous, especially digitally? 

Stand your ground and use that voice you’ve worked so hard to create for your company. Like we’ve said before, trust takes time and consistency. Whether you realize it or not, how you interact with your customers and how you portray yourself digitally creates your company’s voice, which is now an expectation. The company I was working for had a very lofty yet friendly voice, and we had to stick with it. We couldn’t grovel, we couldn’t snap. We had to remain lofty and friendly despite what people were calling us.

Who Deserves a Response?

Just the super means ones, I’m sure… NOPE! You respond to every single comment, message, email, phone call, website inquiry or letter you receive despite how long it takes or how hard it is to sit through. Each person thought the situation was important enough to reach out to you, so they are important enough for a response. You shouldn’t copy-and-paste the same response for each person; take the time to make adjustments, because each person is a little different. And when does this stop? NEVER! As long as these messages pour in from the social backlash, you take the time to answer. It’s the least you can do for the misunderstanding or mistake.

After that, do what you can to salvage your image. In our case, it was donations to the local VFW and American Legion posts, as well a letter to the editor of the newspaper and many patriotic-themed posts throughout the rest of the summer.

Occasionally, people will reference “that one time,” but you can walk away knowing you and your brand did right by everyone to make the best of a bad situation.


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Sam Bergmann

Sam Bergmann is a digital content writer with five years of experience who uses her upbeat and creative energy to write fresh, fun and custom content for our clients.