I certainly don’t know everything, but I do know that a basic rule in life is to not treat people like crap. And when you do accidentally treat people like crap, make it right. I know this thanks to years of working for myself in online marketing, years of working in the service industry and decades of being a decent human being. While social media folks will tell you plenty of rules to follow when it comes to social media, one that is always true in social media and in life is to be good. Be a good soul to your customers, your friends, your followers, etc.

Over the weekend I watched a brand I formerly managed online (I broke up with them in early 2013) implode. It broke my heart, and it continues to do so. Don’t go halfway when it comes to dealing with a crisis online, ever. The Internet is forever, folks.

Said brand allegedly turned away a potential paying customer with a flimsy excuse regarding potentially running out of product. Under normal circumstances this would likely warrant an angry Yelp review or perhaps an expletive-filled tweet. But the potential paying customer was disabled, and said customer’s brother happened to be a pretty big deal throughout the city. Uh-oh. So, someone was wrong here, and it’s time to own up to it, right? Unfortunately in this instance, the brand chose the opposite route. They deleted all comments (roughly 15 of them) from their Facebook page. They turned off the ability for customers to comment on their page. They removed every negative review on their page. They had no apology on any online networks for what could blow up to be a pretty huge mistake. They attempted to erase something that they did wrong with more wrong and took away the social part of social media. And that’s really where my heart started breaking, because this is/was a well-respected brand with a cult-like following. But cults can quickly turn on you, especially when they’re well-organized online.

In a crisis, own up to it. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen, because the same people who angrily comment on your Facebook page are the same who will talk about you negatively on Twitter, on blogs and leave terrible (and possibly deservedly so) reviews on Yelp and other sites. These people won’t just comment online–they’re likely to be vocal with their opinions among friends and family, too. In this particular instance, nearly every negative comment that has come in has promised to tell every friend, family and community member to boycott this location. And now that commenting is off, the brand continues to get messages to the page filled with anger and promises to bring the brand down for good.

Own up to your mistakes, and do what you can to make it right. In this instance, the brand should have individually apologized to every person who commented on their page. They should have shown absolute horror at their terrible customer service and offered to go above and beyond to make it right. They should have had a status declaring their sincere remorse and explaining what they’re doing to make it right to the people affected. A sincere apology will go a long way in a social media crisis.

A lot of small businesses owners I work with decide they can manage their own pages, and a lot of times they certainly can. Day-to-day posting of photos in the shop, statuses about specials and behind-the-scenes looks at employees can be in anyone’s wheelhouse with good communication skills and a decent phone camera. But knowing how to deal with a crisis in the right way is truly where a social media consultant can come in handy. I’m not saying every small business should hire someone to do their social media for them. But I am definitely saying that in life, in your business, and in your social media, just please be good. My heart thanks you.