Don’t Make a Crisis Out of Opportunity

By: Guest | November 13, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is by Sean Fleming.

Every single interaction with the public is an opportunity for you to espouse your brand’s voice and values.

If social media has done anything it has been to break down the barriers between customers and the businesses from which they buy.

Oh, and it’s also made it easy for bored married people to pretend to be young, single, and attractive while flirting with someone thousands of miles away.

But that’s another story.

As recently as only 10 years ago if a customer had a problem with their electricity supplier they might write them a letter.

Or maybe call them and risk spending far longer than they’d like listening to hold music, before finally speaking to a customer service representative who wasn’t actually empowered to do anything to help.

Not any more.

Today, the customer has the power – piss them off at your peril.

Before you can say “who turned the lights off” they’ve turned to Twitter or fired up Facebook and – let’s get ready to grumble – taken your company’s good name in vain.

When Opportunity Becomes Crisis

It’s enough to send many brands into a complete spin and I’ve seen it countless times. Adults in senior positions in major corporations, when confronted with negative attention, turn into eight year olds. Some become bullies, wanting to silence critics, shut down websites, threaten legal action, and so on. Others turn into that kid (we all knew one) who breaks a window playing ball and then runs like the wind… hide, hide, don’t get found out.

At best you’ve upset and alienated the individual who was the source of the grumbles. At worst you’ve also alienated their other online communities.

What was a golden opportunity to show someone your brand listens, understands, and cares, rapidly becomes tarnished, if not outright smelly (tempted as I am at this juncture to deploy the saying that involves things hitting a fan, we’ll just call it a crisis, as I’m reliably informed Spin Sucks is a family show).

Before going in all-guns-blazing on a grumble, think about this: Someone is talking to you. People are watching you. That’s the kind of scenario your well-spent marketing budget seeks to create. And it’s fallen into your lap. Brilliant.

Now Don’t Blow It

Sometimes, I complain about stuff on Twitter and Facebook just to see what happens next. How will the brand respond? What language will they use, what will their tone of voice be like. It can be quite revealing.

Some overreact. Some are way too formal. Some attempt a jokey tone of voice that isn’t always appropriate.

If you want to underline that your brand values are not some piece of marketing fluff or PR spin, now’s your chance. If you want to show people that when they spend money with you they get your respect, this is your moment.

Don’t panic. Don’t react. Be yourself. Consider carefully the most appropriate course of action and speak to people the way they would expect your brand to speak to them.

If you’re an extreme sports brand, talking to customers as though you are a suited-and-booted lawyer will alienate people. The reverse is true too – no big shot law firm should adopt a “s’up dude” tone of voice. If you blow it, if you become too stuffy and officious, or too lax and informal, you can fall into a perception gap. And that, for your brand, could bring about a serious crisis in customer confidence.

People became customers of yours for a reason. At some brief moment in time they trusted in you enough to hand over their (probably) hard-earned money. Just because they come at you with gripes and grizzles doesn’t mean you need to give them any reason to regret that decision to trust you.

Crisis? Or opportunity? The choice is yours.

Sean Fleming is head of digital at London-based Nexus Communications. A former journalist and PR consultant, he is currently focusing on the way digital communications can be used to help businesses overcome crisis scenarios and generally communicate more effectively. He also collects guitars the way some people collect pairs of shoes.


I could not agree with your post more.  Your are spot on when you advise to “be yourself” and consider the voice that customers would except from your brand before responding.   How many times have you read a post by an organization on Facebook and thought, “who wrote this?”  It is usually because the voice of the post does not match up with the perception of the brand.


Social networks give customers a larger, better-organized platform for voicing their opinions and complaints.  It is a vast arena for complaints and compliments, to be heard by the company and potential customers.  It is crucial for organizations to be proactive in terms of using SM for customer support to avoid being left behind and on the defense.  The medium is here to stay, and it will only play an ever-increasing role in the future of customer support.


Wonderful post @seanfleming  I completely agree with you.  In a perfect world, all we would ever hear as business owners is how awesome we are and we would only get 5 star Yelp reviews.  But, the way I look at that is, if that perfect world scenario were true, we would never have the opportunity to grow, learn and evolve....why would we have to if we are perfect?  SO...negative comments or criticisms on social media turn out to be an excellent opportunity for growth, sucking it up and authentic communication with your community so that your business/brand can be perceived as always listening to it's customers/clients/patients.  If done correctly, a business can turn a negative situation around into a more profoundly positive one because, after all, when things are going along smoothly and life is good, people yawn and stop paying attention. BUT, give them a good negative event to talk about, and suddenly, all eyes are upon you to see how you gracefully and elegantly handle the crisis....opportunity in it's purest form.

Thank you for a good read, Sean!



What good timing Sean. Your post and Ginni's make a handsome pair today. 



Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Claudia, I really appreciate it and I'm delighted you enjoyed reading my post.


You are so right about negative comments being a learning opportunity. Failure can be an amazing teacher at times... but not one I'd want to spend too much time in the company of.


More than the ability to turn a negative situation to your advantage, which is something I think all successful leaders must be able to do, for me the fascination lies in watching respected businesses with significant comms teams (and the attendant deep pockets) let things get so badly out of hand and end up with egg on their faces.


I *love* that you refer to the importance of being authentic. This is another of my recent interests.


Thanks again.  :)




Added later:

Note to self - when leaving a reply do try to actually leave a reply, rather than posting a whole new comment. Otherwise people will think you're a bit goofy.


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