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How to Survive a Social Apocalypse: Four Tips to Handle a Social Media Crisis

Posted on February 7, 2018   |   




If kids start eating your detergent pods as part of an internet challenge, you mistakenly post a photo to promote clothes that comes off as more than a bit racist, or your flight crew is caught (on camera) brutalizing and dragging a man off an overbooked flight, odds are that you are in for a rough time.

Alright, it probably wouldn’t be that bad in your case, but I’d bet you can name the companies I just described (looking at you Tide, H&M, and United) and that should serve as a warning of how harmful crises can be in the age of social media – but you already know that, and that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?

Good news – we’re here to help.

The spotlight of crisis in today’s social media era is intense. If you handle things well, you might be able to benefit in the long run, with your response being more impactful than the preceding crisis (remember the Tylenol cyanide fiasco?).

So, what should you do in the midst of a crisis? The answer is, frankly, a lot, but these four tips are a good place to start. They will go a long way towards preparing you for quick action.

  1. Address the issue quickly, directly, and appropriately.

One of the most essential elements of surviving a crisis on social media is to be in control of the conversation. The best way to do this is to inject your brand into the conversation as quickly as possible, with a response that matches the situation.

  • If the crisis is clearly the fault of your company, then the best course of action may be to apologize, taking full responsibility and offering full transparency (after checking with your lawyers first, of course). Check out Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda’s public apology for a good example of this.
  • On the other hand, if you can prove the crisis is based on faulty claims, or is blatantly untrue, then your defense should be made known (see Pepsi’s response to the syringe hoax).

What matters is that you become part of the conversation early on, and in a manner that allows you to participate in and respond to the conversation further down the line. Even a non-response is better than saying nothing at all. For example, to show you are taking the situation seriously, consider: “We are looking into the issue at hand and monitoring developments, and will work to resolve the issue while keeping the public informed. Stay tuned to all social media channels for updates as we learn more.” A lack of response though will come across as if your brand is ignoring the issue or just doesn’t care about it at all.

  1. Be quick on your toes and stay on top of developments in the conversation.

Monitor channels for negative keywords and sentiments. A website such as Keyhole.co can be a great tool for helping track hashtags automatically. Respond quickly in ways that will appropriately address those keywords. Try to anticipate future complaints and work to develop responses that will be readily available should those complaints arise. Follow negative hashtags as they appear and grow; try to address the concerns at the heart of those hashtags. This can help to mitigate or even halt the growth of negative hashtags before they become too harmful.

If you can anticipate the various roads the crisis might travel down and prepare messaging for those situations on the fly, your responses will be developed and available should events lead down one of those paths.

  1. Be willing to over-communicate

Post updates as often as is possible and/or appropriate. People hate being shut out – they would rather hear that you don’t have any recent updates at the time, but are working to gather information, than to hear nothing at all. Be transparent in your efforts to remedy the situation. Handling the crisis is your top priority – your PR department will likely be hard at work advising you and developing messaging and responses. Frequent posts and responses to complaints/comments will demonstrate the value you place on resolving the crisis to your users.

  1. Work to develop consistent, responsive messaging before a crisis hits.

Some elements of crisis response can be predicted beforehand. You know your industry better than anyone else, and will likely be able to anticipate at least a few ways in which things could go wrong. Draft emergency messaging for those situations to help respond more quickly if and when a similar situation arises.

Modular, “canned” responses that can be customized for any situation are great early response tools for when crisis hits. A great go-to might be, “We are sorry to hear about [situation]. Our consumers are our number one priority. Please reach out to us via direct message or by giving us a call at [phone number] so that we can talk to you personally to help remedy the situation.” But, to come across as genuine, it is important that you quickly evolve your messaging to reflect the specifics of the crisis at hand.

I can guarantee you that BP has a full suite of crisis messaging in the case of another oil spill, McDonalds is prepared for false claims about their food, and Colgate will be ready if their toothpaste starts turning people’s teeth blue. Okay, maybe not that last one, but the point still stands. Being prepared is arguably the best strategy for handling a crisis, so put some work in beforehand – you won’t regret it when the tweets start pouring in.

Who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky, never experience a crisis, and never have to put any of these tips to the test, but if you do, they will provide a solid life raft to keep you floating until the storm passes or help arrives.

Until then, keep on exploring our blog for more helpful articles about developing a Marketing Budget, identifying your Target Audience, and avoiding Common Marketing Mistakes, and many more useful topics. Social media is just one facet of a strong, comprehensive crisis response strategy, so if you like what you’re reading, and decide you need some extra direction, feel free to reach out and get in touch with us, we’ll be happy to help!

-Written by Jakob Schlottman, 2017-2018 Intern