How to Prevent a Full-Blown Social Media Crisis

Nov 8th, 2018 Business Development

Brands are more visible now than ever before. Companies have the luxury and the burden of performing well on social platforms. On one hand, it’s great that businesses have the opportunity to engage stakeholders and cast a bigger net; but on the other hand, there’s more ground to cover. Increased exposure can equate to increased risk; particularly when social media enables a direct and immediate exchange of communication. It’s important to be thoughtful and proactive so that your brand is prepared for issues and crises alike.

What is an issue? What is a crisis?

How are they different and why is it important? An issue is an important topic or problem for debate or discussion. A crisis is a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. While on the surface these terms are related, the definitions allow us to create a larger distinction. As issues and crises relate to reputation management brands should monitor troubled instances through their lifespan: Immediate, Emerging and Sustained. Intensity and duration help to steer an issue to a full-blown crisis. Brands should prepare for either scenario as the responses to each are very different.

Remember every single touchpoint and response on social media is an extension of the brand.

Businesses encounter issues on a daily basis. Issues can be warning signs that a crisis is possible. No process and no brand experience is perfect. Know that mistakes happen, but how you handle them has everything to do with how enjoyable and sustainable your brand experience is. For example: say you own a hair salon and as a customer was checking out your system automatically tacked on 30% gratuity without the customer’s consent. This client might either address it in person or make a phone call once the mistake had been realized. Most likely the salon representative would issue a sincere apology and offer a refund for the intended amount. Or, the client might make a more public review on Facebook opening up this issue for viewership. Then what? Your formerly small issue snowballed a bit.

While less than ideal, even negative public feedback is an opportunity to demonstrate to the public HOW you handle conflict resolution.

Handling negative public feedback:

  1. Take a full timeout. Do not respond immediately. Be thoughtful with your word choice and make sure that you’ve proofread. It’s never a bad idea to share your intended with another team member for editing and feedback.
  2. Be human. In this example, the issue would have been easily remedied person to person. Treat an online forum much the same. In some instances it is appropriate to offer up an apology, an opportunity to course correct, provide an invitation to continue the conversation off-line or to provide NON-DEFENSIVE context to help arrive at a mutual solution.
  3. Be aware of your brand values. Is your response in alignment?
  4. Do not go back and forth. A singular response is sufficient. If the person continues to post, further responses will only escalate the situation.
  5. Finally, if someone makes a false claim (i.e. this person never was a customer and the event never took place) you can report the post and request removal. If the post is on your own page, you can remove it; however, if it’s a mild issue try and remain authentic and demonstrate your brand integrity.

Issues can give way to crisis. A crisis exists when there is sustained, irreparable damage to the brand, stakeholders or the bottom line. Ideally, you would already have assembled a crisis communication plan; but if not here are some best practices when your company or organization faces crises:

When your company or organization faces crises:

  1. Take a timeout.
  2. Amass as much information as you can before doing anything.
  3. Identify a team. Know who needs to know what and when. All hands on deck can be a dangerous way to tackle a P.R. nightmare. Make sure that you have someone dedicated to social media monitoring.
  4. Seek legal counsel when needed.
  5. Tell the truth and never speculate. “I don’t know,” is an okay answer.
  6. Do not ignore the media.
  7. Designate a spokesperson. If you’re a larger company or organization, this should NOT be your CEO. Save your CEO or ‘face of the brand’ for good news only.
  8. Remember that everything that you write can be used in court. Take the time to issue thoughtful statements.
  9. Social media’s role is to be a tool for polite and direct communication. Do not delete anything.
  10. Remember! If the crisis is survivable, it’s never as bad as it feels in the moment.


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