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9 Ways to Handle a Social Media Crisis Effectively

9 Ways to Handle a Social Media Crisis Effectively

Home Blog Media Monitoring 9 Ways to Handle a Social Media Crisis Effectively

Social media marketers spend a great deal of time and effort creating and scheduling posts, performing social listening, and monitoring users’ interactions with their social media content.

But no social media strategy is complete without a crisis management plan. This article will focus on the best ways to handle a social media crisis effectively and safeguard both your brand reputation and customer trust.

Facts About Social Media Crisis Management


Develop a social media crisis management plan

Successful marketers know you don’t need to face an actual crisis to develop a crisis management plan. Every company should have a clear, precise, and fully documented plan on what to do in the event of a social media crisis.

What constitutes a crisis? Who are the stakeholders involved? Which communication channels should you use to tone it down? What are the exact actions you need to take?

The first step is to consider what situation constitutes a crisis and clearly mention it in your action plan.

Whether the trigger is negative comments coming in or a serious incident going viral, make sure you clearly define each scenario and evaluate the impact they might have on your overall brand reputation. This will help everyone know when to implement the right strategy.

Some scenarios include: misjudged campaigns, controversial executive or employee statements, data breaches, disruptions in your supply chain, judicial adventures, etc.

Whatever the case, you need a clear response plan that allows every stakeholder to act fast and effectively. As you work through each crisis scenario, you are one step closer to developing a roadmap.

This roadmap should contain a broad checklist of measures, key stakeholders, as well as templates and scripts to use quickly for any type of response message.

Then, once you acknowledge an issue, it’s time for the response team to take control by gathering information and taking measures to prevent escalation.

Establish a social media crisis management team

Handling a social media crisis is a stressful occasion. The last thing you need is team members wondering who’s in charge of dealing with it. Establishing a robust management team with clear responsibilities is essential to tackling the crisis.

Make sure to determine who takes care of what, from social media responses to internal communications and public relations. By doing so, you eliminate much of the frustration and uncertainty associated with crisis management.

As you can imagine, you’ll definitely need a crisis team leader to coordinate the responses, oversee the decision-making process, and get the strategy approved by senior leadership.

Also, specific tasks like social media monitoring and response project management should be assigned to social media managers and team members.

Technical experts like IT or security professionals will help you resolve specific issues and manage the technology required.

Last but not least, if you face legal trouble, make sure you have a legal advisor (in case you don’t have a dedicated team within your organization) to provide legal guidance and approve your communications.

Depending on the nature of your business and the complexity of the crisis, you may consider adding other departments and roles.

Whatever you do, remember to include each member’s contact information, responsibilities, as well as backup employees in case of absence or unavailability.

crisis quick resolution


Decide on your communication strategy and key actions

Once the crisis strikes, it goes without saying that the first line of communication will be your social media channels. But what happens if the situation backfires on your overall online presence?

Deciding on other communication channels and corresponding actions is key to reaching all your target audience and addressing their concerns. After all, not every customer of yours is active on social media or visits your social media pages regularly.

If things escalate, or you want to engage with social media users who demand more of your attention, the best course of action would be to move the conversation to a more private channel – in our case, the email inbox.

In that case, using a reliable newsletter app is what you need, to inform your audience about the incident and the measures you are taking to resolve it.

A personalized email tells your customers you are listening and actively addressing their concerns in the most effective way.

Alternatively, you could opt for a private message or even a phone call, depending on the type of your business.

What’s more, taking down social media posts or responding to negative comments won’t cut it if things get out of control. You should take a series of corrective actions, including applying website changes or updating online ads.

Also, always invest in internal communications so that every stakeholder is aware of the issue, as well as the brand’s responses to it. But more on that last part later.

Media monitoring campaign

Go for a quick yet proper response

Many brands, when faced with a social media crisis, act as if it never happened. As with everything in life, though, ignoring the problem won’t make it disappear.

The last thing you should do is sit back and wait for it to escalate and turn into a disaster for your public relations and brand reputation. You need to take immediate action to show that you are aware of the issue and working hard to mitigate it.

Companies that fail to respond quickly come across as insensitive – or, even worse, as if they’re trying to hide something.

When responding to a crisis, sooner is always better. Consider having on-brand responses handy, just to acknowledge that there’s an ongoing issue. Invest in creating pre-made templates which you can later tweak to fit the most common scenarios.

Even if you don’t have enough data at your disposal, it will give you time to evaluate the situation and work on a proper response at a second stage. A prompt and common response is to immediately take down any controversial or offensive content related to the problem.

In many cases, a suitable apology is required to calm your audience’s frustration.

In the case of Burger King, a Tweet was more than enough to cause a social media crisis. The provocative strategy that the brand used to tease its culinary scholarship effort to support women employees backfired.

burger king crisis


Although Burger King seemed to have good intentions, they had to take down their unintentionally offensive Tweet.

Their quick response, sincere apology, and clarification of the original idea were the elements that made Burger King a good example of how to deal with an unfortunate situation on social media.

burger king crisis apology


Dive into social listening to capture potential issues

In the heart of a crisis, you need to have access to granular information to prevent the damage from spreading and create an effective action plan. That’s why you should invest in a robust social listening tool like Mention, as it allows you to handle a crisis by catching it early.

With such a tool, you can detect potential issues or a spike in social media activity regarding your business.

Also, you should be on the lookout for monitoring sentiment across your social media. In other words, tracking sentiment shows you how users feel about your brand.

Set up alerts to spot changes in your audience’s online sentiment and keep track of all keywords and hashtags associated with your brand.

Even if you’re actively dealing with the crisis, not keeping an eye on users’ sentiment could result in losing insight into the impact it caused.

In 2018, H&M’s image on its online store showed an African-American child model wearing a sweatshirt with the phrase “Coolest monkey in the jungle”. If the company hadn’t monitored social sentiment, they wouldn’t have picked up on the wide criticism happening online.

Consumers perceived the image as offensive and even went as far as calling for a boycott. H&M took drastic measures by issuing a statement expressing their regret. Not only that, but they removed both the ad and the hoodie from its product line worldwide.

hm crisis


Put a pause on upcoming campaigns

You might have scheduled a great product launch announcement for your social media channels. We reassure you that the worst time to post it is during a social media crisis. We know it’s not ideal for your marketing plan, but it’s certainly the right thing to do.

Sticking to a “business-as-usual” strategy on social media can turn a crisis into an absolute disaster. Now is the time to acknowledge the unpleasant situation and think twice before posting anything.

If you do, it will make your audience think that you are burying your head in the sand. Pausing all your scheduled posts during a crisis is the least you can do to show empathy and that you care about your users’ concerns.

Being consistent and appropriate in your communication in difficult situations is a bulletproof social media method to earn back your followers’ trust.

Apart from that, you should consider pausing any scheduled email campaigns. Also, we recommend reviewing your copy on your website’s homepage and blog to ensure there isn’t anything disrespectful in it.

Last but not least, after the crisis is over, revisit future posts. If something feels off in terms of tone and messaging, don’t hesitate to delete it from your social media content calendar.

In this case, we’ll present an example of poor crisis management on social media. Boeing had slow reflexes after the tragedy involving two Boeing 737 Max that cost the lives of 346 passengers.

They were late both in issuing an apology and grounding its 737 MAX fleet. Boeing seems to have done everything wrong during the crisis: responding with delay, downplaying the incidents, and shifting blame to the pilot.

The worst part was Boeing’s inappropriate post on its Facebook page on the same day they issued a press release on the first crash.

Boeing inappropriate post


Don’t neglect internal communications

We’ve established that outbound messages are a crucial factor when dealing with a social media crisis. But failing to do the same with internal communications is a rookie mistake. Keeping your own workforce in the loop is critical when handling a social media crisis.

Your employees and partners have every right to know what’s happening and how your brand is addressing the emerging issue.

After all, you have enough on your plate with ongoing rumors and gossip from the outside.

So, you have to do everything within your power to keep your workforce from spreading misinformation with each other, their connections, or your customers. Be straightforward regarding your action plan and try to soothe any uncertainty.

Also, make sure everyone understands what they should or shouldn’t say, as well as how to do so. That way, all employees will work on keeping things on track while contributing to a unified messaging.

But especially when it comes to your customer service representatives, you should provide them with the necessary resources to handle the situation properly.

Don’t forget that they are probably the most important touchpoints with your customers. So, they need to have a clear understanding of what needs to be done and said.

Always choose the high road

A great thing about social media is that you get to be personal and true with your audience. Once you acknowledge the social media crisis, it’s time to give them a detailed and authentic response that shows you take responsibility.

Social media users tend to lose trust when brands assign the blame elsewhere in times of crisis. Share how you feel, stay calm while engaging in challenging discussions, and never take things personally.

Whatever you do, your apology should say “We are truly sorry”. An apology accompanied by a “but” is always a way to shake off responsibility. Just say you were wrong and describe what actions you’ll take to do better in the future.

Remember that you may receive a lot of negative reviews or angry comments on your social media accounts. Some users do it just for the sake of argument, so try not to get emotional and stick to the facts.

If you deem it appropriate, you can add a sense of humor – as long as it’s not directed at your customers.

During the United Airlines serious incident of 2017, four passengers were deplaned from a flight through the use of force. Other passengers recorded the incident and the video went viral on social media.

United Airlines failed to take the public’s sentiments seriously, which is why this crisis is still an example of mishandled customer service. The airline’s response was delayed and inappropriate.

Actually, the company didn’t issue a sincere apology and went as far as shifting the blame to the passenger for his behavior. This only made things worse, resulting in damaging the brand’s reputation.

Customer loyalty based on brands crisis response


Review your social media guidelines

If there’s a silver lining to every social media crisis, whatever its magnitude, it’s that it makes you better. Any lesson learned serves as an opportunity to build better customer relationships, improve your communications, and gain valuable insights on how to prevent a future crisis.

This is the time to reflect on the strong and weak points of your crisis management and share the takeaways with different stakeholders within your organization.

What most companies seem to forget is that the impact of such a crisis might show up later. For instance, you could notice a drop in sales or loss of loyal customers.

The key is to monitor and analyze sentiment in real time and leverage your analytics to measure the performance of your crisis management strategy.

Create reports that include key metrics like shares and comments, dig deep into where and how it all began, and seek input from different teams.

Don’t forget to keep track of internal metrics, too, like the response time to important questions to detect potential bottlenecks and outline areas for improvement.

To avoid dealing with another social media crisis, it’s imperative that you set up a clear, comprehensive, and efficient social media policy. Here are some of the guidelines to consider:

  • How should employees talk about your business, both on their social media accounts and external interactions?
  • What is your unique brand tone and how can everyone use it in their posts?
  • When should your team members move the conversation to a more private channel?
  • Do you need to give access to core channels, passwords, or verification methods to other team members in case of emergency?
  • Are your employees properly informed about copyright guidelines, meaning how they must credit content?

Media monitoring campaign

Final Words

The truth is that a social media crisis can happen to any brand, no matter its size, industry, or years in business. That’s why it’s crucial to build a crisis management plan, prepare your response carefully, and handle every communication properly, both internal and external.

When you have solid strategies and the right tools at your disposal, it’s easier to alleviate mental strain as soon as a crisis hits.

Your crisis management plan will include critical aspects like your crisis management team, communication strategy, and what your employees should include in a response.

Remember that pausing every campaign is as important as using social listening to understand the public’s feelings toward your brand.

Also, ensure you bring every employee, partner, or other stakeholder into the discussion by sharing insight on the crisis and how you plan to address it.

Be respectful of your customers’ feelings and take the high road of authenticity and apologetic attitude. Nonetheless, stay calm and use the crisis to evaluate your crisis management plan and social media policies.

A social media crisis is a disruption – to say the least. We reassure you, though, that it’s mostly a great opportunity to forge stronger relationships with your audience.

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Maria Fintanidou

Maria Fintanidou works as a Copywriter for email marketing automation software Moosend, having created the Help Articles (FAQs) and overseen the platform’s translations in Greek and Spanish. She loves exploring new cultures and ways of thinking through traveling, reading, and language learning.

Copywriter @Moosend