By Lasse Lund

July 30th, 2015

Ask a group of marketers what their worst nightmare is and a social media crisis will rank high on the list. These events can bring marketing campaigns to a grinding halt, disrupt workflows, and leave an embarrassing stain on a company’s public image. If no crisis plan exists, the entire marketing department may be put on alert and forced to redirect their energy towards fixing the problem.

One of the most challenging aspects of a social crisis is that you are left with very little control. Marketers often watch as the negative message spreads across the internet, while their attempts at reining it back in prove fruitless.

However, there are examples of companies who managed to not only weather the crisis, but pivot the message so they came out ahead in the end. Let’s take a look at a few of them and what we can take away from their situation and response.

The Crisis: Fedex’s Viral Video

Back in 2011, FedEx found themselves in the middle of a potential crisis on social media. A video was posted of a FedEx employee handling a package carelessly. The video quickly went viral, rounding up 4.5 million views within a week of being posted.

The Fedex PR team lept into action, posting a series of tweets, a blog post, and a video response from their Senior VP. Even though the original video continued to make its way around the internet, Fedex was quickly able to curb much of the negativity.

The Lesson: Choose the right way to respond.

Fedex did a number of things right: they responded quickly, they made things right with the individual customer first, and they communicated openly and honestly. Yes, they wanted to save their brand from being tarnished, but they also showed that they cared about their customers as well.

They also communicated on the right channels. It was an effective choice to craft a video response to a crisis that began on YouTube.

The Crisis: O2’s Twitter Meltdown

O2 provides mobile coverage to over 24 million people in the UK, so when their network went down, their customers took to Twitter to air their frustration. The topic quickly went viral, reaching an estimated 1.7 million people by the end of the first day.

O2 immediately set to work to resolve the problem, but their approach to customer response on Twitter was a little, shall we say…unorthodox. It was immediately apparent that O2 wasn’t using carefully crafted PR language prepared in advance for such a situation. Rather, their exchanges with customers maintained a relaxed and even jovial tone.

This worked tremendously in their favor, and the overall tone of the conversation on Twitter quickly turned from disdain about the outage to delight and praise for their honest and witty responses. Eventually, the network was restored and O2 customers were able to get back online.

The Lesson: Don’t forget the human element.

While you may not want to throw the social crisis playbook out the window like O2 did and give your Social Media Manager free reign to deal with the situation, their solution emphasizes an important lesson: humans respond to humans, not to corporate-speak. With their honesty and wit, O2 reminded people that there were humans behind the brand, not just a corporation caught in the maelstrom and desperate to save face.

The Crisis: Red Cross’s Rogue Tweet

The dreaded rogue tweet: Every social media manager’s nightmare. Gloria Huang, Social Media Specialist at the Red Cross, knows what it is like to have this fear realized. One day after work, she tweeted out “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd”…from the official Red Cross Twitter account to their 240,000 followers.

Fortunately, her social team noticed the errant tweet, deleted it, and sent out an apology within an hour. If the rogue tweet had gone unnoticed or unresolved for a longer period of time, the Red Cross might have had a real mess on their hands. However, their quick and honest response appealed to their fans who took the social media lemon and turned it into lemonade. Thanks to the Red Cross’s loyal fan base and Dogfish Head Brewery, the hashtag from the offending tweet, #gettngslizzerd, quickly became a calling card for people to donate blood to the Red Cross.

The Lesson: Mobilize Your Fan Base

There are actually two lessons here. First, make sure that the people who have access to your brand accounts are fully trained and aware of the power of their position. Our platform has a built-in approval process that can also help prevent these kinds of situations before they begin.

Second, don’t ignore the power of your fans. They are likely to side with you in the event of a crisis, as long as you are honest about what happened and move to make amends. Keep the lines of communication open and you can count on them to come to your rescue.

In reality, while these three companies were able to turn their crisis into a positive, that isn’t always the case. The reason that social media crises can have such a dramatic negative impact is due to one factor: Surprise. Too many companies simply don’t have a proper social media crisis plan in place, since they never expected that a crisis would happen to them. While a plan won’t necessarily stop a crisis before it begins, it will go a long way in limiting the damage and might even turn it into a win for your brand. Read more about social media crisis management best practices here, or download our handbook below. 

How to Handle a Social Media Crisis

Here’s how to implement a crisis plan that works for you.


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