10 tips for handling a social media crisis

A social media crisis can quite easily escalate into uncontrollable scenarios as have many companies experienced. Often, companies are unaware of the havoc their customers – and sometimes themselves – can create. What are the triggers of a social media crisis? What are the consequences? And how do you overcome such a crisis? Here, we provide you with our five dos and five don’ts of handling a social media crisis.

Most of us are probably familiar with incidents where consumers have taken on a company on social media because they disapprove of its actions. The social media crisis typically hits when dissatisfied customers use social media to publicly rule out a company, and the spreading of negative and critical publicity can damage any reputation of any company. Therefore, companies need to take a social media crisis seriously, even if it may seem unfair. Ultimately, the disgruntled consumers are most often also the company’s bread-and-butter – and they will always have the final word.

There can be many different reasons behind a sudden rage among followers on social media. It can be actions that the customers do not understand or approve of. Or it can be broken promises and poor customer service. One good thing about a social media crisis is that companies are kept in check and cannot sweep it under the rug if they have acted immorally or treated customers poorly. On the flip side, however, is the fact that social media can serve as a platform for public condemnation for everyone to see, and companies often have little room to defend themselves. If you are too slow or unprepared to handle a bad comment, a social media crisis can escalate very quickly.

The aspects of a social media crisis

If you find yourself in the middle of a social media crisis and want to get out of the situation with your company image and reputation intact, there are important precautions and measures – both in terms of preparation before the storm and the communication during the storm. It is important to have your communication strategy in place and have all the messaging and material ready before an incident.

During a social media crisis, it can seem uncontrollable and scary. However, in special cases – where you have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide – you may be able to turn the crisis into something positive and use the increased attention to your favour. But this is a very delicate balance.

Your five dos:

  1. Prepare a contingency plan: Make sure you have a plan for your communication to withstand a social media crisis. Start by identifying problematic issues and develop ready-to-use messages that address the most critical ones.
  2. Be quick to react: Speed is of paramount importance on social media. How fast you respond can make or break the development of a social media crisis. Do remember to communicate in a considered way. To do this, you must fully understand what started the storm.
  3. Always monitor the internet and your platforms: It is essential to keep track of how people are talking about your company on social media and elsewhere to be able to engage in a dialogue with potential critics. It is equally important to monitor everywhere during a social media crisis to understand where the crisis may be headed.
  4. Be ready for a dialogue – and possibly an apology: You must be transparent in your responses. Give as much information as possible to your critics to better position your company and own the situation. Otherwise, you may risk that the critics define the situation and your company will not be in the driver’s seat.
  1. Involve the entire organisation and stand united: Involve your organisation and educate your crisis team and your spokespeople in the anatomy of social media. By increasing this awareness, everyone will access the risk of a potential crisis in their social media communication.

And your five don’ts

  1. Don’t panic and react on your first instinct: Remember your contingency plan and act accordingly. Avoid feeding the fire when you are trying to put it out. You must understand why the social media crisis started before you react.
  1. Don’t get into verbal quarrels with your followers on social media: Everything you say and do during a social media crisis can be used against you. A dismissive language can lead to new problems and then the crisis continues.
  1. Don’t be too quick to apologise: It is important to be aware of the context of the crisis before you choose a response strategy. Maybe there is nothing to apologise for. If it appears obvious that your company is acting responsibly, it is a good idea to be persistent and insist that you have done nothing wrong. However, if you have broken a crystal-clear promise to a customer or if someone in your company has misbehaved in any way, you should obviously apologise immediately.
  2. Don’t continue the regular flow of news and updates: Put your normal social media plan aside and remember to turn off your automated social media tools. Any positive posts about the company escalate the whole situation. Instead, take the situation seriously and treat your fans, followers and customers as equals.
  3. Don’t use all your energy to respond to every single post: It can be a waste of time to respond to every single inquiry and post during a social media crisis. Often, the comments and questions from your customers are more or less the same. Instead, you should respond in high-level, general terms.

Once you have tried to be in the eye of a crisis on social media, you know the value of a social media crisis plan. Be sure to make simple guidelines and establish a chain of responsibility so you can respond to different scenarios. If you do not have in-house resources available, make sure to get help before a new crisis appears.