Social media can snowball and make things worse if your social media responses are automated

Take the case of a woman who was killed in a car accident in 2010. A family member recently wrote a blog post talking about the accident and going on to illustrate how Progressive failed to help them, and explains that not only did they not honor his sister's policy, but when the case went to court, Progressive lawyers defended the man who killed his sister.

This, of course, traveled like wildfire across the internet, and people naturally started flocking to Progressive's social media sites. Here is where things got tricky....

On Twitter, they tried to do the right thing. They posted a comment that read:

"This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they've had to endure.

We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations.

Again, this is a tragic situation, and we're sorry for everything Mr. Fisher and his family have gone through."

So far, so good, except that it went over the 140 character limit so the message was shortened. That's still not awful in the grand scheme of things.

What happened next though inflamed already upset people - every time a Twitter user commented on the company's Twitter page, they sent the same message, over and over again.

What started out as a seemingly sincere comment now became automated and spam-like, which angered people even more.

Over on their Facebook page, the comments piled up. Thanks to the new timeline, these comments don't crowd a company's wall like they once did, but they are still visible and easy to access. I have reviewed their page and do not see any reference to this issue anywhere; in fact, they fell silent on the 13th, which is the same day the blog post was written.

It is possible they stopped their social media initiatives once they attempted to address the situation on Twitter and it didn't go so well. It's not stopping people from commenting though, and fans who were unaware of this recent development are now fully aware and potentially adding to the conversation.

Social media is difficult, especially in a crisis situation. Unfortunately, that is the time that you have to be the most careful and do the right thing since you are under a virtual microscope. It will be interesting to see how Progressive bounces back from this from a social media perspective; it's a good lesson to learn though.

Social media needs to be genuine and not automated - sincerity can go a long way, but it needs to be genuine and transparent.

Every company needs to use these real-life examples as a talking point within their company and have a concrete social media plan for this type of situation.

It will happen to every company, on some level, at one time or another, and it's best to be prepared.

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