How to Manage a Social Media Crisis Successfully

In the world of digital interconnectedness, no brand is immune to the potential fallout of a social media crisis. Companies must be prepared to handle these situations strategically, whether it’s a service outage sparking a flurry of customer complaints or an ill-timed post that backfires. This comprehensive guide outlines steps to a crisis management plan and offers a roadmap for effective crisis management when one occurs.

Steps to Prevent a Social Media Crisis

1. Establish a Social Media Policy

   Creating a comprehensive social media policy is the foundation of crisis prevention. Clearly outline guidelines for employees regarding posting on branded and personal accounts, handling customer inquiries, compliance with copyright laws, and responding to PR crises.

2. Secure Your Social Media Accounts

   Mitigate the risk of cybersecurity crises by enforcing strong passwords, limiting and tracking employee access, and preventing the creation of unauthorized alternate accounts.

3. Implement a Social Listening Program

   Monitor brand mentions, industry trends, and relevant hashtags to proactively identify potential issues before they escalate. Utilize tools like Google Alerts and keyword searches to stay informed and establish protocols for monitoring and responding.

4. Be Proactive About Hashtag Campaigns

   While hashtags can boost engagement, ensure they are carefully chosen to avoid misinterpretation or negative associations. Learn from past mistakes, such as McDonald’s #McDStories campaign, and conduct thorough research before launching any hashtag initiatives.

5. Avoid Capitalizing on External Crises

   Exercise caution when commenting on external crises unrelated to your business. Learn from examples like Kenneth Cole’s insensitive use of the #cairo hashtag during the Arab Spring and ensure that posts during crises are brand-appropriate and non-promotional.

6. Define a Crisis for Your Business

   Clearly delineate what constitutes a crisis for your company. Train social teams to differentiate between isolated incidents and potential crises that require immediate attention and specialized response.

7. Develop a Crisis Communication Plan

   Establish a crisis response team comprising key social team members, management, and leadership. Clearly define roles and responsibilities, including AI in communication, social media management, and media response.

During and After a Social Media Crisis

1. Acknowledge the Issue

   Acknowledge the crisis promptly, even if a complete resolution is not yet available. Assure customers that the company is aware of the problem and actively working on a solution.

2. Pause Scheduled Posts

   Temporarily halt all scheduled social media posts to prevent tone-deaf or inappropriate content from being published during the crisis. Evaluate and adjust the tone of each post to align with the crisis communication plan.

3. Pick Your Battles

   Limit public responses to negative comments and posts, focusing on resolving issues privately. Recognize when it’s best to ignore comments to avoid fueling performative exchanges that can escalate tensions.

4. Keep Your Team Informed

   Ensure that the entire company is aware of the crisis, its details, and the recommended actions. Communication is key to prevent internal teams from being caught off guard by customer complaints and to align responses across all channels.

5. Review and Learn

   After the crisis subsides, conduct a thorough review with the social team and leadership. Identify improvement areas, evaluate mitigation steps’ effectiveness, and incorporate learnings into an updated crisis communication plan.

Social Media Crisis Communication Strategy

1. Identify Your Crisis Response Team

   Document the individuals responsible for creating, reviewing, and approving social posts, posting updates, answering messages, managing customer support, and monitoring broader conversations.

2. Create Triage and Priority Guidelines

   Develop a pre-planned action plan for potential crises, prioritize essential information dissemination, and create guidelines for identifying the scope of the crisis.

3. Specify Posting Platforms and Schedules

   Detail which social media platforms will be used during a crisis, how quickly information will be posted, and how often updates will be shared. Pause existing scheduled posts to avoid inappropriate content.

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4. Develop an Internal Crisis Communications Plan

   Engage employees in crisis communication efforts, utilizing an employee advocacy program to disseminate important information. Reinforce social media guidelines and support employees who may face challenges in handling public-facing roles.

5. Plan Your Social Listening Approach

   Utilize social listening tools to stay informed about the crisis’s impact and gather insights from employee and customer sentiments. Report and share information gathered through social media listening in alignment with the crisis communication plan.

6. Align with Social Media Policy

   Ensure that the crisis communication plan aligns seamlessly with existing social media policies and guidelines. Address crisis-specific issues such as appropriate tone, responding to negative comments, and identifying authorized spokespersons.

Social Media Crisis Communication Examples

1. Government of British Columbia

   Effectively uses Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to share emergency information with clearly marked posts and pinned content. Utilizes Story Highlights on Instagram for increased visibility.

2. Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness

   Focuses on health-related aspects during crises, sharing symptoms and information relevant to the community’s well-being. Collaborates with other organizations to amplify important messages.

3. GoFundMe

   Facilitates verified fundraisers during crises, using social channels to direct users to trustworthy and legitimate campaigns. Ensures transparency and trust in the crowdfunding process.

For more information, check out this social media crisis management guide


In the volatile landscape of social media, crises are inevitable, but with a well-prepared crisis management plan, businesses can navigate the storm successfully. Proactive measures, clear communication, and continuous learning from experiences are essential elements in building resilience and maintaining trust in the digital age.

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