8 Tips for Managing a Social Media Crisis

By: Lucy Kaplan

April 25, 2019

Whether you’re watching the news, scrolling through Twitter or chatting with a friend, the topic of conversation is more often than not a brand experiencing a crisis on social media.

Does this mean that brands are suddenly behaving badly? Or is this just how we live now? (It’s ok. You can pick both answers.)

We know that social media’s superpower is amplification, and that means that both “good” news and “bad” news are more widely shared than ever before. And admit it: When we see a brand suffering the wrath of tweet-storms, we just can’t look away. From tasteless tweets to images shared on Facebook that should never have been created, social media crisis management has never been more important. More of a “when” than an “if,” crises are bound to happen, and you know what they say: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

So how can you plan for a crisis you don’t see coming? We have some tips:

Make sure you have a documented social media policy. (We’ve shared some tips on how to create one.) When you have clear guidelines for your employees detailing what to post and what to never even think about posting, you lessen the risk of someone going rogue and sending your social media pages into a tailspin.

Utilize social listening to get ahead of potential issues. Done well and consistently, social listening can help prevent issues from turning into full blown crises. By listening intently, you can gauge how people are feeling about your brand. Over time, you will come to understand the difference between grumblings and a longterm shift in sentiment towards your brand.

Have a crisis communication plan at the ready. Having a procedure in place will allow you to respond quickly before anything gets out of hand. The key to managing a social media crisis is timeliness. Your goal should be to respond within an hour of the crisis striking. Your internal social media crisis plan should include:

  1. How you will internally communicate what is happening
  2. How you will determine what is actually a crisis and not simply a disgruntled consumer
  3. Approval process for what you will post on social media
  4. Pre-approved external messaging
  5. A link to your social media policy
  6. Who will do what, and when (per department)

No matter how well you plan, don’t expect to resolve the issue with a few well-timed posts. The most important point to keep in mind is that people will be looking to you for a response; you need to acknowledge that something is occurring as quickly as possible. This can be as simple as acknowledging that there is a problem and letting people know that more information will be coming soon.

Delete or pause pre-scheduled posts. Nothing says, “We don’t care what you think!” more than silly memes or posts in the middle of something serious. It makes your brand look tone-deaf and insensitive.

Acknowledge, but don’t argue. Queen Gertrude said it best in “Hamlet”: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Defending yourself too early or angrily responding in the moment will just create doubt in your sincerity. If you have already posted that you will be responding soon, you’ve bought some time to create a video or official company statement. In the meantime, keep your responses as short as you can and try to avoid getting baited into another tweet-storm. If people persist in trying to get you to engage further before you are ready, try to steer the conversation into direct messages, an email or a phone call outside of social media. Keep in mind that more people will be watching your pages than ever before, and stay on the high road. (Even if it gets lonely.)

Avoid the following:

    1. Deleting comments that are negative prematurely.
    2. Blocking anyone who disagrees with you or is unhappy with your brand.
    3. Taking it personally and losing your brand voice.

When you’ve come out the other side, do a postmortem. Ask yourself:

  1. What started the crisis?
  2. How can we stop this from happening again?
  3. What can we do better next time?
  4. What worked well this time?

Mistakes happen, and more brands will see a social media crisis happen than won’t. The key is responding quickly and in a transparent way that shows your consumers that you truly care about them and are willing to go the extra mile.

Follow Lucy: @lucyrk78

At The Social Shake-Up