Your strategy against nasty social media comments

A seemingly harmless criticism on social media channels can very quickly develop into an uncontrolled accumulation of negative comments. This so-called shitstorm not only causes bad press but can also, in the worst case, affect the entire brand perception. The following article, therefore, explains the definition, well-known examples and important warning signs of such a phenomenon. In addition, five crucial reactions within shitstorm marketing are listed, as well as measures to prevent the worst developments.

Definition: What is a Shitstorm?

The term shitstorm is defined in the dictionary as a “storm of indignation in a communication medium of the internet”. Communication media means, for example, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but also messenger messages or e-mails. 

According to the definition, private individuals, celebrities, companies, associations or authorities can be affected by such a storm. Decisive features are numerous hate comments in a social media post or many dislikes including negative comments. Often the storm originates in a social medium and then spreads to other communication channels. Very violent shitstorms are then even reported in the offline media such as newspapers and television.

Difference between criticism and shitstorm

It is often difficult to tell the difference between massive criticism and a storm of indignation. Because not every indignation expressed online is immediately a shitstorm, even if there are a lot of users. This can also be justified criticism, but it is still difficult to process it to such an extent during the wave. 

In order to be able to distinguish between criticism and the storm, another feature is needed, which is also present in the official description in the dictionary. Because there are “insulting statements” that do not allow a factual discussion. Overall, the following criteria are therefore met:

  • There is no exchange of factual arguments.
  • According to Shitstorm meaning, posts and comments always concern the personal level.
  • Simple taunts, criminal insults and death threats can be included.

Because of these developments, such a wave of indignation often ends with a legal dispute, which can drag on for many years due to the narrow legal boundary between criticism and criminal statements.

Shitstorm: A practical example

Even large companies cannot always escape a sudden shitstorm. The following example show which reactions make a discussion worse and how the companies have dealt with the public outcry:

EXAMPLE: NESTLÉ AND THE PALM OIL DISASTER

In 2010, the environmental protection agency caused a big shitstorm that affected the Nestlé food company. In a social media campaign set up specifically for this purpose, the organization criticized the amount of palm oil in the KitKat product. 

The accusation: the company needs far too large a quantity of palm oil for production and the habitats of the orangutans are being destroyed for this. As part of this campaign, Greenpeace released several YouTube videos, which immediately triggered a storm of outrage. Because many customers not only reacted with hate comments but even created fan pages to continue to exchange views on the topic.

Nestlé, on the other hand, tried to ban the videos and aggressively shut down fansites to avoid the discussion. But this reaction sparked the discussion all the more. 

Ultimately, the group had to give in and separated from the palm oil suppliers. The company also presented an action plan on how the primaeval forest can be better protected in the future.

Warning signs of an impending shitstorm

There are numerous warning signals that can announce a shitstorm. Even if these signals do not necessarily have to have such a negative impact, it is worth paying close attention to the following events:

  • an above-average number of comments under a post, for example on Facebook
  • many negative-emotional or overly critical comments without concrete factual content
  • sudden surges in discussions around one’s own brand
  • Influencer mentions in news, blogs, forums, social media

In order to be able to recognize these warning signals for an impending shitstorm, the products or brands, competitors and key terms of the industry should be checked regularly on the Internet.

Your Strategy Against Nasty Social Media Comments

Shitstorm reaction: 5 tips on how to do it

Anyone who overlooks the warning signals or does not react in time can get into a shitstorm with their own company. In such moments, every founder needs a plan to get out of the situation as quickly as possible with the correct reactions. The following measures will help in this situation:

1. REACT IMMEDIATELY

The worst reaction is to keep quiet about everything. It is better to acknowledge the problem and tackle it as soon as possible. It is important to give the people concerned feedback or information to show them that the problem of the potential shitstorm is being taken seriously.

2. REGRET WHAT HAPPENED

Many companies are afraid of this sentence, but in many cases, it helps: “We are sorry that this happened. We’ll do everything we can to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.” This is how the company shows that it can admit mistakes and does not offer a new target for the attack through a discussion.

3. INFORM THE CUSTOMERS

It is not enough to react once and then not show any further reactions. It is better to keep customers regularly updated. If you have absolutely no new information, you can reply with “As soon as we know more, we will inform you immediately”. In addition, however, it is worth publishing individual steps or new details.

4. DON’T DELETE CRITICISM

Anyone who simply deletes criticism can even worsen the wave of outrage. Because it looks like you have something to hide. If something is deleted because, for example, it contains sensitive company data or serious insults, then an explanation is required. The decision can be justified in this way and does not aggravate the shitstorm even more.

5. CONTROL THE INFORMATION

If you use a content management system such as WordPress, Joomla or Typo3, you can create a subpage that does not appear in the navigation bar and cannot be recorded by Google. This subpage is a good way to summarize the problem of a possible shitstorm in a public, neutral and objective manner.

6. TAKE CRITICISM AND TURN IT INTO PRAISE

If the shitstorm has already been triggered and can no longer be stopped, the criticism can also be turned into praise. The American biscuit manufacturer Honey Maid shows how this works. With its commercial, which shows tattooed hipsters and homosexual couples as parents, the food manufacturer received pages and pages of hate comments on the Internet. 

In response, Honey Maid produced a second video. It shows two artists who printed out the entire protest storm, rolled it up and conjured up something great out of it. This spot, in turn, generated positive reactions and increased sales.

3 measures to avoid a shitstorm

The storm of criticism does not come suddenly, it develops out of one or many criticisms. However, it can happen very quickly, sometimes it only takes a few hours from the first message to the real storm of indignation. It is therefore important to take the following measures to avoid a shitstorm:

MEASURE 1: OBSERVE AND RECOGNIZE WARNING SIGNALS

It makes sense to regularly monitor the mentions in the social media area and to check them with the help of social listening. The first warning signals can be recognized and, in the best case, clarified directly in a conversation via direct messages.

MEASURE 2: ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN

Everyone who works in a company with social networks should also know the critical sides of the company. This way, a plan can be drawn up before the possible shitstorm. In preparation for this, it makes sense, for example, not to distribute account access randomly, but to log it carefully.

MEASURE 3: RESPOND TO NEGATIVE FEEDBACK BEFOREHAND

Even if it is often not a shitstorm, there can always be negative comments about a company. For example, during a product evaluation or after an event. 

These negative comments should definitely be heeded and answered. Because this creates the overall impression that the company is open to criticism, which can reduce the chance of a possible wave of criticism.

Conclusion: Be alert and avoid negative consequences

Sometimes a shitstorm cannot be avoided, but the reactions can be prepared. Imagine the possible scenarios and create a plan for possible measures. It also helps to work with a PR agency, which will then advise you. 

Ultimately, such a wave of indignation can even be an opportunity to impressively position your own company through positive and understandable steps. So try to remain calm at this moment and take appropriate measures immediately.

Avert frequently asked questions (FAQ) about the Shitstorm

What is a shitstorm?

The term is defined in the dictionary as “storm of indignation in a communication medium of the Internet”. Communication media means, for example, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but also messenger messages or e-mails. According to the definition, private individuals, celebrities, companies, associations or authorities can be affected by such a storm. Decisive features are numerous hate comments in a social media post or many dislikes including negative comments.

How can you avoid a shitstorm?

On the one hand, it makes sense to regularly monitor the mentions in the social media area and to check them with the help of social listening. The first warning signals can be recognized and, in the best case, clarified directly in a conversation via direct messages.

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