Reputation management 101: how to deal with email shitstorms

Reputation management 101: how to deal with email shitstorms

Having been in the middle of some online shitstorms myself, I consider them great experiences for both my professional and personal development.

Sharing these stories might help you to better prepare for internal workflow when monitoring your brand online, and handling social media crisis management. This is by no means a guide for what you should do, but rather what could have (in hindsight) been done better. My experience is that your online reputation management workflow needs to be as streamlined as possible. What do I mean by this? No, you don’t need to collect every single piece of social data – and you can’t. However, it needs to be good enough and structured enough to enable well-founded decisions. Even if you act quickly when escalating or presenting this information to your boss or management team, it needs to be presented in an extremely comprehensible way – that also covers the context. This is of course not only for enabling better decision-making for them, but also for your own sake. So you’re able to identify  he relevant stuff. As we’ve mentioned previously, you need to have clearly defined goals with social data, and this goes for your approach to reputation management overall.

So, what happened?

An email was sent out accidentally with some seemingly innocent phrases – and went horribly wrong. Or rather, a mockup version of an email was in fact sent mistakenly at the worst possible time (a religious holiday) to over 400K users. At this point, I was working with a social media monitoring tool, but with the limitation of seeing only 3-4 specific channels, and with no real sorting function. I wasn’t able to structure the data or divide the discussions by sentiment, which made things really hard. Everything needed to be fetched and collected channel by channel. The wildfire spread across Twitter, Facebook and gained some traction on Reddit (this was, luckily, in Reddit’s early days). People were tweeting screenshots of the email to major news outlets, and rightfully demanding an explanation on Facebook 24/7.

What did we do?

The mistake was noticed immediately, but the first measures decided upon only served to intensify the storm – resulting in even more unstructured social conversations flooding our channels. Since our first effort to deliver an explanation that wasn’t quite clear ended up backfiring, we decided to come clean within 48 hours, and put all the information about the situation on the table. We also clearly described the measures that were taken and that we were very sorry for not giving the full picture in the first explanation. Apologies were posted on all channels, and the response was actually better than expected. People understood that this was a mistake made by individuals, and not the company per se.

What were the effects?

We implemented a more thorough system to really, really double check everything that went out One blunder was having too many stakeholders, and a lack of clear guidelines for how the information gathered should be distributed. The fact that we were missing a comprehensive social media tool also made for several hours’ work being poured into the gathering of social data, leading to protracted decision-making cycles as a consequence. We learned to focus – properly If the storm hits hard, it will feel like the winds come from every direction, and if you try to counter them all at once, your efforts will most surely be in vain.


Being able to track our brand analytics would have made a world of difference. The takeaway? Monitor related conversation areas that might affect your business. Then ensure that you’ve defined and categorised your lovers, haters and influencers – not only for your brand, but for the topics and subjects impacting your industry.

See also our other relevant Reputation Management 101 articles, e.g. "how to handle email fraud" and "how to handle pissed off customers".


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