8 ways to respond to a social media crisis

A social media crisis can begin chipping away at your carefully crafted reputation in seconds. Here are eight reputation-management tips specifically for social media.

Social Media Crisis

We recently looked at the steps brands can take to protect themselves from a social media crisis.

But what if the worst happened and you fell into one of the many pitfalls? Your social media accounts are run by humans. And sometimes humans make mistakes.

It’s not hard to find examples of high-profile brands committing social media faux pas. But whether your intern has accidentally tweeted her Saturday night plans on the company account, or an offline incident has triggered the social masses to rain down complaints, abuse and vitriol on your social channels, there are simple measures you can take to contain the issue and move on with your integrity intact – and maybe even enhanced.

Here are eight tips on how to manage a social media crisis.

1. Take ownership. Fast

The worst thing you can do during a social media crisis? Nothing.

This is happening. You need to deal with it. Quickly too. Because we all know time moves at warp speed on social media. So instead of closing your eyes and hoping it will blow over, take a deep breath and prepare to accept responsibility. It immediately puts you on the front foot. Which is where you want to be in times of crisis.

If you’re a major brand with a service that runs 24/7 then you should have a team on call to manage incidents that occur out of normal office hours. British Airways got stung several years back when their social media team wasn’t around to respond to a promoted tweet from a disgruntled customer. By the time their team logged on the tweet had been seen by thousands of people. Damage done.

Unsurprisingly, BA’s Twitter account is now monitored at all hours.

Social Media Crisis

2. Evaluate and learn

In the moment, a social media crisis can feel like the end of your business world. 24 hours later the storm is likely to have blown over. Once you have had time to draw breath, evaluate what happened.

Key questions to ask:

  • What caused the problem?
  • How could you stop it happening again?
  • How well did you react?
  • What could you do better next time? (Always assume there will be a next time.)

3. Don’t go over the top unnecessarily

The first question to ask yourself: how big a deal is this?

If your ‘crisis’ is an honest mistake with zero negative consequences, why go over the top? By all means accept that you messed up, but a little tongue-in-cheek humour can go a long way in terms of taking the heat out of the situation – as this fabulous example from the American Red Cross demonstrates…

Social Media Crisis

UK baking giant Gregg’s also knows how to keep a sense of humour in a crisis.

4. Reschedule scheduled posts

We’ve seen some ‘experts’ suggest burying social media blunders with a flood of new content. Come on. Instead you should do the opposite – and that includes cancelling any social media updates that have been pre-scheduled in management tools like Hootsuite. It could get pretty awkward if you suddenly start promoting your latest product when you are in the throes of a social media crisis.

5. Own up

If you were the one responsible for accidentally posting something you shouldn’t have on the company account, own up. Don’t just delete the offending content and hope for the best. Yes, it’s embarrassing, but you need to take responsibility.

Once you have deleted the content, tell your boss, your PR team or whoever it is that needs to know. Give an honest appraisal of the situation, including if there has been any negative response. You are unlikely to get in serious trouble for an honest mistake, but you might if you ignore a burgeoning social media crisis that gets out of control.

6. Get discussions out of the public eye

Let’s say you have some angry comments. You need to acknowledge them. But arguing in the public eye could rapidly devalue the integrity of your brand. Your strategy here need be no longer than two letters: DM.

Once you are in a private space, listen to individuals’ concerns and respond diplomatically. It’s not about point-scoring or getting defensive. Handling the situation tactfully might just enhance your reputation.

Somebody should have told Applebee’s.


7. Be honest, authentic and transparent

If your crisis really is a crisis and you have offended your audience, humour probably isn’t the best policy. (And by probably, we mean definitely.) Instead you need to offer an apology and, if possible, an explanation. If you have no idea what triggered an offending tweet or post, tell your audience that you will be conducting an investigation.

Smoke and mirrors fool nobody. Ditch the starch corporate lingo and be honest, authentic and real. Your audience will respect it.

It doesn’t get too much more serious for a brand than when an employee personally insults the US President from the company account. The way KitchenAid USA responded to that exact scenario remains a totem of good practice.

Kitchen Aid 1

Kitchen Aid 2

Kitchen Aid 3

8. Put a crisis management plan in place

Once you have completed the above step, draw up a social media crisis management plan. Create a chain of responsibility with simple guidelines on how to respond to developing scenarios. And if you genuinely don’t have the resources in-house to monitor an influx of social media attention, it’s easy to find award-winning experts who can do it for you.

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