Oh, so *it* happened. 

That one comment. That post published on your social media profile. That message which started the fire.

Welcome to the world of social media crisis management. Can you fully avoid entering it? Probably not. Can you minimize its impact? You sure can, once you’re armed with some useful social media crisis management tips and practices.

And here’s where we come with a helping hand. Check out the best practices followed by brands all over the world, examples they set, and mistakes they’ve made. Your guide to social media crisis management starts right now. 

What is a social media crisis?

A social media crisis is the aftermath of an event on social media concerning the reputation of a brand, an individual, or a product. The issue often escalates on social media and is then naturally transferred to other areas online or even offline. It also may start quite inauspiciously by a single photo or a comment, but can spread like wildfire in no time – so it’s important to keep an eye on its growth. 

How to differentiate a social media crisis from just constructive feedback or a nasty complaint? It may not be so straightforward, but it’s all about the impact.

If a particular situation is extremely likely to impact your company in terms of financial loss, harm to its reputation, and/or damage to the brand, then it’s a proper social media crisis. If it’s just a small, local issue that can be solved quickly, it usually just falls under the “negative comment” classification.

Sometimes, though, a seemingly small problem might turn into the biggest crisis you’ve ever faced. And protecting the business from it fully may not be possible.

Let’s face it, Social media crisis management is not the easiest nut to crack. However, if you’re well prepared, you can tackle the problem professionally anytime it occurs (which is hopefully never, but it’s better to be safe than sorry right?). Below, you’ll find a few actionable tips and tactics you may want to follow. 

Best practices for social media crisis management

Identify risks

My brand is fine, I don’t see anything bad happening on social media around it.

Is it, though?

There are many risks waiting for your brand on social media that could lead to a potential crisis and force you to effective social media crisis management:

Let us just list a few:

  • terrible customer service (e.g. an unpleasant response from a call center agent who “had a bad day”)
  • a fault with a product or service (e.g. some hair in soup served in your restaurant)
  • political issues with the managing board (e.g. suspecting a CEO of corruption)
  • employment issues (e.g. an unsatisfied employee spraying complaints on social media)
  • an unstable situation within the company (e.g. key team members are leaving)
  • a delayed or non-existent reaction (e.g. many complaints about your therapy scheduling software left unanswered or deleted)

Have we just shed some light on what can lead to a proper social media crisis? 

Great. Let’s cross another thing off the list, then: a Risk Matrix

A Risk Matrix combines both Impact and Likelihood in the form of a table, which can help you identify both the most possible crisis situations and those that could have a massive impact on your brand. 

risk matrix for social media crisis management
source

How to fill it in? Simply take a particular, potential threat and try to place it within the matrix. 

Let’s take the case of an unsatisfied employee spraying complaints on social media. If your company has no problems with employee turnover and you’re on friendly terms with people who decide to leave, this situation is rather Unlikely to happen to you. 

However, if it does happen then it may be a real danger to your brand, and this should place it among Major impact cases. This adds up to 8 on the 25-point scale, which is High and therefore should become a potential concern of yours. 

Creating and filling in a Risk Matrix can help you identify the most dangerous risks and bottlenecks to solve in order to avoid catastrophe before it’s too late. 

Speaking of avoiding brand catastrophes, you may also be interested in the point below.

Drink some coffee. LATTE even. 

Wait, are we mad? Talking about coffee when your world is on fire? 

Yes, you’ve got that right. 

Say hello to LATTE. 

The LATTE method was invented and implemented by Starbucks to improve customer service and boost customer satisfaction, so their employees would serve both great coffee and a great customer experience. 

What does LATTE stand for?

  • L – listen. Without interrupting but trying to understand the other side. It’s possible the criticism or dissatisfaction is justified. Make sure you understand the arguments.
  • A – acknowledge. If you make a mistake, the worst thing to do is pretend the mistake didn’t happen or that it’s not a big deal. Admit fault instead of coming up with excuses or justifications. Although it can sometimes be difficult, this will in most cases smooth things over.
  • T – take action. Clients often expect specific responses from you, including repair or compensation. Always try to find the most comforting solution for your clients. Taking responsibility also enables you to learn from your mistakes. Draw conclusions and take actions to avoid a similar situation in the future.
  • T – thank. Don’t forget to thank your audience for bringing attention to the problem. If the criticism you received was constructive, be sure to openly appreciate the value you derived from it.
  • E – encourage to return. Keep in touch and, despite the initial unpleasantness, maintain the relationship. Solving such a difficult situation can turn an otherwise unfavorable person into a brand ambassador. It is usually appreciated When someone admits they are wrong, and this may even create an outstanding marketing opportunity.

What does a LATTE type of answer look like?

  • (L) Dear Maria, we’re very sorry that this happened to you. 
  • (A) It obviously should never happen that you find hair in any food we serve and we would like to fix this situation for you.
  • (T) Could you please send us the exact date and time of your visit, so we can investigate this problem? You can message us here or get in touch with us directly using any of the contact details from our website. 
  • (T) Once again thank you for pointing out this mistake. It teaches us a lot and we’ll do even more to assess the quality of our products and services.
  • (E) We hope that you’ll stay with our brand, as our number one aim is to make our customers happy.

Is doing that difficult? It may be, at first. Is it useful for social media crisis management? Its help can be priceless. 

Use social listening to put out the fire before it’s too late

Social listening can come in handy when it comes to identifying content that could bring your brand some problems and escalate into a crisis. And if you don’t implement it in your strategy, you’re probably in danger of needing social media crisis management, since you won’t know about a problem that is escalating.

Social listening tools (such as Mediatoolkit) provide you with a helpful dashboard on which you can find relevant results for your search queries. 

When you know what people are saying about your brand online, you can react accordingly. If people praise you, you can pop up to say “thanks!”. If they ask questions, you can answer them. When they share stories with your brand, you can even shed a tear. And when they complain about your brand, they are even more likely to let you know, which is not something you should neglect. 

Without social listening, you need to rely on coincidence, time-consuming manual research, or simply luck to find out what the buzz around your brand on the internet is. Mediatoolkit is much better than guesswork then, we reckon. 

Have procedures in place

Let’s face it: some cases requiring social media crisis management would have never happened if the work had been organized well in the first place. Ensure your company is prepared for possible crisis situations, but also take precautions to (hopefully) never let them occur in the first place. How can you do that?

  • Store passwords in a secure place and make sure you have full control over who has access to them.
  • Implement a centralized system for social media workflow and content approval so you never post something that wasn’t intended to be.
  • Consider weekend moderation if things are rather hectic and accidents are prone to happen during those times too.
  • Make sure you know who does what. For example, if a team member answers some social media comments then tell them to sign their name at the end, i.e. “Thanks for spotting, eagle eye / Monica”. It’s not about finding a scapegoat in the case of social media crisis management, but rather keeping track of things.
  • Double-check whether all employees in charge of communication are on the same page with you and your business values. They should also follow your internal employee social media policy on how to speak about your brand publicly and what to avoid, as well as access guidelines. This can also improve the employee lifecycle.  
  • Create a social media policy, including brand and tone of voice guidelines, plus a list of responsible people in times requiring social media crisis management. Also, you may want to include shifts and days off (here’s where a collaboration tool and employee scheduling software may come in handy), as well as additional notes and branded account rules.
  • Prepare a set of canned responses for social media crisis management, so your team has some answers handy and ready for further customization when facing a potential crisis.
  • Assess that your internal communication is spotless. Evaluate whether the channels, lead generation tools and apps your team has been using are crystal clear to everyone involved. Try to identify any bottlenecks that may exist. 

It’s worth mentioning that once you set up these rules, things may get sorted out. However, this shouldn’t stop you from refreshing and redefining the rules in the future (e.g. when a brand new social media platform is added to your strategy). You need to make sure that everyone in your team knows the rules and has access to them in terms of social media crisis management

There’s no place for the weakest link here. 

Social media crisis management: mistakes to avoid, examples to follow

#1 Ryanair

How cool is not answering comments regarding compensation and full refunds for canceled flights? 

Our verdict: not cool, especially when you take a look at this whole thread and see that other comments and questions were either solved or partially answered.

It’s okay not to know the answer straight away or require additional info to help the customer. It’s not okay, though, to cherry-pick and choose only those answers that suit your business goals. And while it may not cause a huge crisis (yet), it definitely damages brand reputation.

#2 KFC

You must know that it’s obviously normal for shops to sometimes run out of stock. 

However, it was quite the opposite of normal, for some people, that KFC ran out of chicken. They had to shut down their restaurants in the UK for 10 days, causing people to cry, long for chicken even more, and the brand to suffer.

Of course, things didn’t quiet down for them on social media. But they turned this PR crisis into a win with a full-page Metro advertising campaign, presenting a FCK bucket with an explanation.

What’s the lesson here? When circumstances give you lemons, try to make some lemonade out of it and win customers’ hearts back with a tongue-in-cheek yet professional approach and employee training.

It may work better than you expect. 

#3 National Express

Sometimes social media crises come out of nowhere. Sometimes you may simply be asking for one.

Wondering who did the latter? National Express. At the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, they encouraged people to take a trip to an outlet shopping centre. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the post itself, and it was probably approved and scheduled a few weeks or months in advance. 

But there’s everything wrong with the timing. Make sure to revisit your content plans to avoid having to rely on social media crisis management

Over to you

Can you completely avoid social media crisis management? No you can’t, but you can get well prepared for any outbreak around your brand – especially with our handy checklist:

Social media crisis management checklist:

1. Identify potential risks for your brand and allocate them on a Risk Matrix
2. Create templates for answers, press releases, and official statements
3. Secure your social media accounts and control access
4. Leverage social listening and media monitoring in your strategy
5. Make sure your team is on the same wavelength 
6. Recognize bottlenecks in your workflow and internal processes 

Even the biggest fish in the business pond have had to tackle some crises on social media. Instead of worrying about troublesome situations, get prepared to deal with them professionally. We can’t do it all for you, but we hope this article comes in handy for preparing your social media crisis management tactics. 

And so you can be even more prepared, we’ve written a guide on ways you can detect and better manage a PR crisis. It’s got some more examples so you can learn what to do from the best and what to avoid from the worst – check it out below!



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