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  • Richard Wardrop

How to handle a social media crisis


Good news travels fast but public outrage travels faster. Over the years we’ve seen the best and worst of brand meltdowns and public scandals on social media (cue Michael Jackson eating popcorn). There’s no denying that it can be satisfying to watch, but it’s a different story if you’re the one in charge. The way your brand reacts to a crisis on social media can make or break your reputation. That’s why we’ve created a quick guide to help you prepare for any situation.

There he is!

How do you define ‘crisis’?

There are lots of different things that can go wrong for a brand, especially on social media. We’ve seen rogue tweets, unfavourable hashtags and full-scale catastrophes.

Perhaps not the greatest choice of words during the infamous horse meat scandal…

It’s important to note the difference between a blunder and a crisis. More often than not, minor errors can be considered forgivable by your followers if dealt with quick enough. As a common-sense approach, if it’s controversial or a high emotion issue then it’s got the potential to be a full-blown crisis. In any situation, it’s important to act quickly.

Crisis prevention

They say the best offence is a good defence. This is especially true on social media. Whilst you can’t predict the future, you can take basic precautions which will help protect your brand against the most common social media crises:

  • Change passwords regularly

  • Carry out regular audits on social access and 3rd party scheduling apps

  • Create clear internal social media guidelines for employees

  • Don’t confuse the brand account with your personal account

  • Research campaign names and hashtags in advance

  • Use monitoring tools

  • Run crisis simulations

How to spot a crisis

When it comes to managing a brand crisis, you may have warning, you may not. The important thing is knowing what to look out for. Things can turn sour very quickly on social media so the days of posting content and moving on are long gone. In a recent study, social media was shown to be the most relevant source of news and information, with a massive 59% of people saying it’s more important to them than TV, radio and newspapers. So, if something goes wrong, it could grow arms and legs on social media long before you’re aware of it.

There are lots of useful social listening tools available which could help your brand buy valuable time in a crisis. These tools allow you to monitor mentions, sentiment and track specific keywords. Many of these tools also let you to define thresholds and set up alerts so you’re never caught off guard.

How to react

Once you’ve spotted a potential problem, you need to understand the root cause and consider the possible impact on the brand before deciding how you’re going to react. You need to consider the seriousness of a post and how often it’s being said, one missed delivery shouldn’t merit a crisis strategy but several thousand should.

Certain posts will escalate no matter where they come from but generally the influence or authority of the person who posted it plays a big part in how you should react. Social Influencers with huge reach can be a great asset in marketing but can also lead quickly to a PR nightmare depending on the mood of their post.

When you’ve established that this is a genuine crisis, clear internal communication is needed to set a plan in motion. Authenticity and consistency are vital in these situations so preparing a contact list of key stakeholders in advance will ensure you’re sending out a unified message across all channels.

The world of social media can often be cruel and unforgiving, so a light-hearted response can sometimes be a good tactic to show the human side of your brand.

Remember when someone changed the Greggs logo on Google to something a bit cheeky?

If you’re dealing with a more serious matter, people expect an immediate, upfront and honest response. Where possible, try to move negative conversations out of the public eye. Another good tip is to re-schedule your scheduled posts, at least until things blow over! It can appear insensitive if a random marketing post goes live during a natural disaster or brand meltdown.

Preserving your brand’s reputation is important, but a little humility goes a long way. There are some scenarios where acknowledgement of an issue from a brand has created advocacy. Back in 2013, Asda came under fire after producing offensive Halloween costumes of mental health patients. The uproar on social media began around 10pm (long after the social team had gone home) but with a clear strategy in place, the brand acknowledged the issue swiftly, taking clear action and apologising for their mistake. Many customers praised their honesty and regular communication throughout the situation.

Monitor the situation

You’ve acknowledged the issue and crafted a well thought out response… but you’re not out of the woods yet. It’s vital to continue monitoring the situation long after this. This gives you the opportunity to manage any further situations and begin to evaluate the full impact. Lastly, use it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Consider what went well, what could’ve been better and start preparing for the future!