How to Handle (and Avoid) a Social Media Crisis.

A social media crisis is every social media manager’s worst nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be.
TJ Kiely
April 10, 2018 - 5 min. read

Did you know that one in five PR disasters break on Twitter? That brings a new whole meaning to the phrase “social media crisis.” 

In today’s hyper-connected world, nowhere does news of a PR scandal spread faster than on social media. Technology has changed the speed at which news of a social media crisis travels, which is why brands today need to have a social media crisis management plan in place.

And the first step in preparing for a social media crisis is understanding the difference between a true crisis and an angry comment.

What is a social media crisis?
A social media crisis is an event that can have a negative effect on a brand’s, company’s, or individual’s reputation. It can be something that occurs offline and is then brought to social media channels, or it can begin on social media channels, and then spread.

Examples of social media crises can be embarrassing photos, inappropriate postings by employees or ex-employees, or voiced opinions that can reflect negatively on a company. H&M was recently embroiled in a social media crisis after using a black child to model a sweatshirt with the phrase “coolest monkey in the jungle.”

And, what is not a social media crisis?
As our friends at Chandelier Creative pointed out during our webinar on how to handle social media crises, a poor review or comment on a social media post do not (usually) qualify as a crisis.

A true social media crisis can strike at any time, and when it does, you’ll be better prepared to handle the situation if you have a social media crisis management plan in place. So here are a few key steps that any brand should follow in order to prepare for social media crisis.

Also see: How to Reply to Comments on Social Media.

Step 1: Put together a crisis management team
Create a small team of individuals from across different departments (Legal, PR, and Marketing) that should be notified when a social media crisis strikes and can act as advisers throughout the duration of the scandal. Make sure you collect up-to-date contact information for all of the members of your Crisis Management Team and clearly define each participant’s role.

This team should include a diverse group of employees in order to help you spot and respond to incidents through different departments across the organization as quickly as possible.

social media crisis

Your Crisis Management Team should include individuals from various departments in order to expedite approvals.

Step 2: Proactively identify potential crises
Before a crisis hits, leverage your Crisis Management Team’s knowledge about the organization to brainstorm a comprehensive list of potential social media crises or issues that could affect your organization. The team should be able to identify what type of incident would classify as a social media crisis for your organization and what type of resources would be required to appropriately address the situation. For example, you may want to select a set of individuals that are authorized to speak publicly on the company’s behalf during a crisis situation.

social media crisis

When preparing for a social media crisis, it’s important to distinguish between a contained instance of negative engagement and a full-blown crisis.

By acquiring this knowledge you may even be able to improve existing processes to proactively avoid a social media crisis.

Step 3: Set up several social listening projects
Using the list of potential social media crises that your team identified, set up corresponding social media listening queries based on related keywords. After all, you don’t wait until you’re the last person to know what’s being said about your brand.

A true social media crisis is something that can be avoided if you can listen, identify and intercept early on. That is why social media listening is your first line of defense when it comes to identifying and managing a crisis.

Effective social media listening involves filtering through millions of messages generated each day to unlock actionable insights. This means checking the status updates of your brand followers and looking for common trends, or sifting through all the available data to get a feel for what people are saying about a particular topic.

When setting up a social media listening project, you should also listen to the following items:

  • Your company name or product names
  • The names of your C-level executives
  • Your competitors
  • Industry influencers
  • Keywords related to your brand or industry

TIP: Make sure to account for spelling variations, acronyms, shorthand, slang, punctuation etc.

Changes in the volume of mentions or the sentiment of comments can alert you to the fact that something may be wrong.

When you create a social media listening project in Falcon you can gauge the sentiment of the mentions based on whether they are positive, neutral or negative. You can also benchmark the sentiment of your brand against competitors to understand how your brand is perceived.

Also see: Social Media Listening: Why it’s Critical for Brands.

4) Create response templates
In a crisis situation, the clock is against you. Your followers will expect a timely response to the situation, which is why it can be helpful to develop a set of pre-approved responses and image bank that can be easily accessed.

The faster that you are able to respond to a social media crisis, the better positioned you will be to control the narrative around the incident.

5) Test your social media crisis management plan
Run through the social media crisis management plan you’ve just laid out with your Crisis Management Team. During this process, you’ll be able to figure out what works and what doesn’t until you’ve developed an agile procedure.

social media crisis

Successfully executing your social media crisis management plan will make you feel like you’re a social media rockstar!

The key to avoiding a social media crisis is preparation
Over the last year, we’ve seen multiple brands falter when it came to reacting to a social media crisis, and you don’t want your brand to join the growing list of the biggest PR disasters of 2018.

If you take the time to prepare for a social media crisis and practice executing your social media crisis management plan, your team will be better equipped to address any scandal that may arise.