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How to avoid—or apologize for—social media disasters

october 9, 2023

Posting to social media takes mere seconds and little forethought—even if you curate your social media presence carefully, you're bound to mess up at some point. Social media mistakes happen every hour of the day and a seemingly harmless tweet or a video taken out of context damages your image and causes harm to your followers. Whether you use social media to grow your personal brand, run a small business, or share updates with family and friends, the way you handle your social media mistakes makes or breaks your online reputation. Luckily, you don't need a PR team to address social media mess-ups effectively. By learning how to apologize authentically online, you'll be prepared before disaster strikes.

How to avoid—or calm—a PR misstep

Avoid PR disasters on social media by preventing mistakes in the first place. Before you post, pause and consider the potential repercussions of what you're sharing. Social media mistakes often occur when people rush to post new content or rely on social media automation without regularly checking on their posts.

Even if you take all the right steps to avoid offending your followers, making some mistakes is inevitable. When you do mess up, pay attention to timing. Responding to negative feedback on social media requires careful thought but waiting too long to put on an apology escalates the situation. Don't respond immediately but craft an appropriate apology within a day or two.

Using social media listening tools and paying attention to brand mentions on social media helps you keep tabs on online feedback. By listening to what people have to say about your brand, you'll stay ahead of your missteps and be able to respond quickly.

How to effectively apologize on social media

In most circumstances, a social media mess up requires a public apology. Once you've realized you've made a mistake, start thinking about how you'll apologize and resolve the problem to the best of your ability.

The word "Sorry" written on a cupcake being offered as an apology.

Take accountability for your mistakes

Your social media mess up might look like an obvious blunder to you, but in some situations, you might not immediately realize what went wrong. Instead of responding defensively, try to understand the perspective of those pointing out the inappropriate post. Even if you don't immediately comprehend the issue, taking accountability makes it clear that you care about the impact of your social media presence. Ignoring the problem or reacting negatively makes a bad situation even worse.

Be authentic

It's natural to apologize to control the damage done to your public image, but you should try to respond as authentically as possible. Showing genuine regret for what you've done shows your commitment to doing better in the future. It's easy for people to identify an insincere apology and dismiss your efforts to take accountability.

Listen to feedback

Feedback from your followers offers invaluable tools to apologize effectively and avoid causing harm in the future. Listen to feedback before you post an apology to identify precisely what mistake you made and how it affected other people. After you've made a public apology, use feedback to improve the way you handle similar situations in the future.

Choose the best format

Sometimes, a video apology appears more personal and authentic—your followers will know that you personally take accountability for your mistakes. However, it's easier to control the tone and appearance of written apologies. The type of social media content you create also affects how you should apologize. Most of the time, there's no need for a business to post a video apology, but influencers or personal brand accounts should consider them.

When in doubt, stick to the typical format of your social media posts. If you mostly post videos, create a sincere video apology; if Instagram photos are your go-to, make a written apology that can be posted as an image and include additional information within the caption.

Steps to creating your social media apology

You don't need a PR team to craft an effective social media apology and protect your brand's image. By thoughtfully considering the mistake you've made and how you can make it right, you'll be able to create a social media apology like a pro.

Three sticky notes with faces on them to indicate sad, neutral, and happy emotions.

1. Address who you've affected

The more specific your social media apology can be, the better. A vague apology that doesn't directly address who you've affected does more harm than good. For example, if you accidentally reshare a post from someone known for their bigoted views, you should directly name the individuals or groups that have been affected by them.

If your social media mess up included more generally offensive content, like not-safe-for-work content, directly address your followers and anyone else who saw your posts.

2. Choose the right platform

When it comes to social media apologies, the platform you choose to post your apology on matters. You may be tempted to share your apology on a secondary account or less popular social media platform to avoid new people learning about your mistake. However, hiding an apology makes the situation worse by making you look deceitful and not genuinely apologetic.

Post your apology directly on your most relevant platform—if you primarily post vlogs on YouTube, don't tweet an apology that only a small portion of your subscribers will see. Typically, you'll want to post your apology to the same platform and account that you originally messed up on.

3. Keep it professional

Take time to think about what you want to say in your apology before immediately posting—your apology should sound authentic while remaining professional. It's easy to open your favorite social media app and immediately record a video of you apologizing, but your words may be taken out of context or misunderstood. Whether you post a written apology directly to your feed or record a video apology, carefully prepare what you want to convey.

4. Express sincere remorse

Your social media apology should express sincere remorse to show your followers that you didn't intend to offend or harm them. Without some indication of remorse, your apology may come off as scripted or obligatory. Directly include language in your apology that shows remorse.

5. Take action

Don't press post on your social media apology until you've explained the next steps you plan to take. Depending on the circumstances, this may include a verbal commitment to do better next time. If possible or relevant, include more tangible amends that you have made or plan to make soon. The types of action you take depend on the severity of the situation and can take many different forms. Donating to a relevant nonprofit or platforming voices of people affected by your mistake shows you take your social media impact seriously.

Woman smiling and expressing sincere emotion.

Creating a sincere social media apology helps build trust with your followers and grows your reputation, even when you make mistakes online. Once you've listened to feedback and formed your plan of action, you'll be able to handle your social media mess-ups like a seasoned pro and avoid PR disasters.

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