How to handle a Social Media Crisis

When you hear the words ‘social media meltdown’ some well-reported examples come to mind. Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner ad, United Airline’s viral PR disaster  and Macdonald’s tone-deaf TV advert have all been the focus of Social media lynch mobs in recent months.

All of these mishaps have proven that a negative story is capable of damaging the reputation of a brand, and can now reach thousands of people across the globe via social media in the blink of an eye. In fact, Brandwatch tracked mentions of Pepsi following the release of their ad and, unsurprisingly, found an increase in the number of negative comments.

By the 5th of April when Pepsi decided to pull the ad, 58.6% of their social mentions were negative. This goes to show just how quickly a misstep can turn into a social media nightmare. And what’s worse, there are no boundaries when it comes to a story spreading virally. According to the 2013 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer study; ‘Containing a crisis: Dealing with corporate disasters in the digital age’, 69% of crises spread internationally within 24 hours and on average reach 11 countries.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” – Warren Buffet

These examples should serve as a cautionary tale. Social media has provided the public with a very easy way to vent their anger, which can spread at great speed, and it’s critical for a business of any size to have a crisis communications plan that accounts for social media.

But, when used correctly, social media can also allow companies to quickly and effectively manage their response. Below, we look at 5 best practices for handling a Social media crisis.

  1. Monitor online conversations, listen and be present

Show your customers you take them seriously by listening to their conversations and comments on your social media channels. Many people use a company’s social media channels as a way to complain and as this is a public forum, you need to respond in line with your organisation’s customer service policy and in a timely manner.

Remember that responding thoughtfully and with care really pays off, you can win over critics and even create brand advocates. You can build trust with your audience which could lead to one of marketing’s most powerful tools – word of mouth recommendations.

  1. Have a crisis communications team in place

It’s best to form a team using members from various departments to ensure all areas are covered including PR, HR, legal, marketing. As the before mentioned examples show, when a crisis occurs it may not originate on social media, but you can be sure it will spread there.

Representation across a range of teams is crucial because the incident may affect any one of their sectors. Practicing crisis scenarios with the designated team is imperative as this will highlight any areas that need improvement and will give you time to address any issues.

Remember time won’t be on your side when a crisis occurs. The team should have social media and digital communications experts who are primed and ready for any meltdown.

  1. Don’t take things personally or lose your cool

There will undoubtedly be times when a conversation appears on social platforms about your brand, that you don’t agree with. But sometimes it’s best to turn the other cheek, especially when responding on social forums where things can escalate quickly.

Stick to providing the best information you can, in a friendly, cooperative way, you should be able to deal with most inquires. Sometimes it may be necessary to ask the customer to discuss via another form of communication such as email or direct messaging.

  1. Conduct regular reviews

All brands should be reviewing their crisis communications plans every 6 months. Things can change quickly so relying on a crisis communications plan you developed 10 years ago and never practice isn’t going to serve you well when disaster does strike.

 It may seem like something you don’t have time for and don’t need to do as it ‘won’t happen to us’ but this is a recipe for a crisis in its own right. There are new digital platforms and social media channels popping up faster than ever so you need to ensure your crisis management team are aware of these and have a plan in place to account for them.

  1. Be transparent and sincere

If a crisis situation does arise, the best thing you can do is be transparent and sincere with your response. Trying to cover up or ignoring the problem will only make matters worse and will damage your brand even further.

People make mistakes, we are humans, and your customers are more likely to respect you if you’re honest about the mistakes made and explain how you plan to rectify any issues. If your company makes a mistake, admit it, apologise, and correct it as quickly as possible.


After taking all of these points into consideration, you should be well placed to effectively deal with a crisis should the need arise. Preparation and teamwork are key in crisis management and are two aspects that don’t change with the advent of digital media. Digital has presented us with a time issue in terms of how quickly we now need to respond to a crisis situation but this also presents companies with a positive as it’s become quicker to get across your brand message. The reviewing of crisis comms plans is also something that is more important than ever due to the constantly evolving world we live in, but if the crisis management team have a proven and practiced crisis PR plan, your company is in the best place to react should a crisis occur.

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