Oct 31 2013

5 Ways Buffer Handled a Hack (like total pros)

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It’s not every day a major social tool gets taken over by some chumps. So what’s the protocol when these catastrophes do happen? Look at Buffer’s shining example. They were Johnny on the spot with this situation and can teach us a thing or two about keeping your cool in a heated situation.

Other blogs have also picked up on Buffer’s adroit handling of a disaster, which has gained positive feedback and a boatload of thankful tweets, like the following.

Screenshot of a tweet praising Buffer's great response to the hack

Here are the takeaways to learn from.

1. Centralize all your official updates

Use one person to rep the team. Buffer did a great job of making CEO Joel Gascoigne the point person, with the rest of the team supporting him with general @Buffer updates. We’re looking to Buffer’s example for our own platform, Filament, to keep people on the same page, in one spot, with one voice in charge at our status blog.

2. Be empathetic (& appropriately apologetic)

Of course this situation sucks for you and your company, but it likely sucks even more for your users. A little compassion for your users goes a long way. The Buffer blog kept updating, as well as humanely apologizing for how awful this was for their users.

Watch and learn how Buffer empathized with their users instead of getting defensive or shifting blame. If you messed up, admit it. But if it’s a hack, sincerely acknowledge the impact these issues have on your users, and focus on fixing the problem.

Here’s a quote from the CEO on Buffer’s blog:

“I wanted to post a quick update and apologize for the awful experience we’ve caused many of you on your weekend. Buffer was hacked around 2 hours ago, and many of you may have experienced spam posts sent from you via Buffer. I can only understand how angry and disappointed you must be right now.”

3. Talk like a calm human

Being a living, breathing organism goes hand-in-hand with empathy for the impact on your users. Who wants a robot spewing words like “inconvenience” and “policy” at them? As The Next Web’s coverage shows, Buffer’s tweets were personable (a “Sorry!” from the CEO and employees signing off on the Buffer account tweets), reassuring (“investigating right now”), and to the point.

Although the human part of you may want to freak out a little about the hack, you’ve got to remain cool and in control. After all, if the pilot loses it, then everyone will lose it. Keep your language calm, but communicate that you’re working with urgency for the sake of your users.

4. Update, update, and then … update

Silence is killer in these situations, especially since users will fill in the gaps with their own worst case scenarios. Frequently send out updates as new information comes to light. In crises, updating often is more important than updating with 100% accuracy. Use the best available knowledge instead of waiting to confirm every last detail.

5. Enlist your users

Out of everyone, your users are the ones with the best reason to get things back up and running quickly. Simply get them to help you, and you’ll have this crisis dealt with in no time.

Give users a channel through which to report back to you — and encourage them to confirm whether things you think you’ve fixed are actually in working order for them. Keep in mind that one-to-one channels are ideal for communicating with your users. Try support tickets and Twitter DMs. Public back-and-forth with users in your blog comments is a recipe for migraines.

Building a business like Buffer

Buffer rose to the occasion and showed us how to react when things go really, really wrong. We can act swiftly, stay calm, stay human, and stay in communication — all of which are good practices whether or not there’s a fiasco. What other lessons did Buffer teach us this past weekend? And how have companies come through for you in crises? Share with us in the comments!

About the Author:

Marketing strategist, designer, WordPress-er, fascinated singulatarian, sci-fi lover & improv comedian, with a dash of UK panache. Thinker/doer. Friend to startups. Enemy of bananas. I'm also the Director of Products at digital-telepathy. Join/find me on Google+ and Twitter.

Leave a Response

5 Responses

  1. Oct 31 2013
    Phil Simon

    Great post, guys. I agree. “Never waste a good crisis.”

  2. Oct 31 2013
    Sasha-Shae

    They handled all of that like true champions!! And I actually didn’t even know of their hack, that must also show it was not angering tons of people due to how they in-turned dealt with the crisis. Great job Buffer!

  3. Nov 06 2013
    Top Graphic Designers Philadelphia

    Great companies always find a solution to any problem whether it is big or small. Sashe you are right Buffers are true champions.

  4. Nov 12 2013
    Lynn Serafinn

    Totally agree, guys! I recently wrote a similar article about another app company who did NOT handle a crisis very well last spring when Twitter changed their automation policy, and ended up causing a cyber-riot in their support forum. I do love the folks at Buffer. I wasn’t even AWARE there was a crisis until it was over! They are definitely one of my fave apps and I recommend them to all my clients.