Social Media Crisis Management: 10 Actionable Steps

Jun 19, 2024 9 min read

Social media crises are unexpected negative events that stem from numerous user complaints or an insensitive post, comment or opinion made by your brand and harm your reputation. However, having a social media crisis management plan and brand monitoring tools can help prevent and mitigate these incidents.

This article will explore strategies to handle a social media crisis and potentially turn the situation to your brand's advantage.

What Is Social Media Crisis Management?

Social media crisis management refers to the strategies and actions a company or organization takes to identify, address, and resolve negative situations that arise on social media platforms. It's essentially a battle plan for dealing with online reputation issues before they spiral out of control.

If such issues aren't addressed promptly, what starts as a small complaint can quickly turn into a major crisis. This is why having a solid social media crisis management plan is important. A well-prepared strategy will help you to respond swiftly and prevent the situation from worsening.

Why Is Social Media Crisis Management Important?

  • Transparency and Reputation Building: By acknowledging and addressing customer concerns openly and honestly on social media, you demonstrate transparency and rebuild your customer's trust, even after a crisis.
  • Mitigating Damage: A well-managed crisis lessens the negative impact on your brand reputation and customer loyalty. A swift and appropriate response shows you take customer concerns seriously.
  • Maintaining Customer Trust: Managing a crisis properly demonstrates your commitment to customer satisfaction and helps retain their trust.

How To Create A Social Media Crisis Management Plan?

1. Identify The Problem

The first step in creating a social media crisis plan is to identify the problem and its origin. The issue might not have started online; perhaps it was a single public comment or an event that sparked online discussions later.

Understanding where and how the problem began is important for crafting an appropriate response and determining the best channels for communication.

If the crisis originated offline, monitor your social media for any related discussions. Anticipate conversations even if they haven’t started yet. Tools like Statusbrew and Mention make it easier to monitor online mentions of your brand and gauge public sentiment.

Should you find an ongoing heated discussion online, do the following:

  • Look for any trending topics that have emerged from the issue.
  • Evaluate the extent of any damage already caused.
  • Determine which social media platform is seeing the most activity regarding the issue.
  • Accurately assess the situation to formulate a great response strategy. Be very careful of how you choose to respond because you don't want your response to backfire and make the crisis even worse.

2. Understand If The Issue Is A Problem Or A Crisis

The next step in handling a situation is figuring out its severity—is it just a problem, or is it a crisis?

Example of a Problem

Example of a Problem.

While they may sound similar, problems and crises are quite different and require distinct approaches. Understanding this distinction is key.

Here’s an example to illustrate:

If a customer complains about your product or service on social media, would you classify this as a problem or a crisis? It’s generally just a problem because it's an isolated incident that can be resolved through good customer service, a refund, or a discount.

On the other hand, a crisis would be if multiple customers are publicly criticizing your brand on various platforms, overwhelming your support team and escalating the situation beyond simple fixes.

Pro tip: Sentiment analysis is useful in gauging the severity of a situation.

Sentiment analysis

3. Execute The Plan

Once you have decided on the best course of action, it's time to implement your strategy. You should create an internal flow chart that outlines each team member's specific responsibilities in addressing the issue.

Customer service reps and higher-level managers often need to go beyond standard responses. If the situation escalates, it might even be necessary for top executives to get involved.

Hold off on posting any new content on social media or sending out marketing emails until the situation has calmed down. This demonstrates to your customers that your focus is on resolving the issue.

10 Steps For Managing A Social Media Crisis

1. Track Your Online Reputation

It's crucial to keep an eye on your online reputation to be prepared for any business crisis. You can use various online reputation management tools to analyze every mention of your brand, whether tagged or not, understand the sentiment around it, and observe how perceptions of your brand have evolved.

Track Your Online Reputation

Once you've monitored your online reputation, develop a social media crisis management plan. Think about every possible scenario, such as receiving a negative review, a surge in critical comments, or a mention by a well-known or influential figure.

List all potential situations and review them with your social media and customer support teams. Make sure they understand how to respond appropriately, prioritize certain interactions, and know when to escalate issues.

2. Respond Promptly

Ignoring a problem won't make it disappear; it only makes things worse. Customers expect you to recognize any issues and respond quickly.

If an action you have taken sparks public backlash, remove the offending material or issue a genuine apology or retraction. Letting the issue linger will cause it to escalate. Communicate during a crisis, acknowledge the problem and assure people that more information will follow.

3. Prepare Your Social Media Policy

In the worst-case scenario, irresponsible posts by your employees on social media can also lead to a crisis. This can be avoided by implementing a clear social media policy.

Every company should have a specific social media policy that outlines acceptable behavior, guidelines for company-branded accounts, and rules for how employees discuss the company on their personal accounts.

While the details of a social media policy vary based on the industry and size of the company, it's important to clearly define the following in your policy:

  • Copyright Regulations: Employees may not be aware of copyright issues, so provide clear guidelines on how to properly use and credit third-party content.
  • Privacy Restrictions: Define how to interact with customers online and specify when to shift discussions to private channels to protect customer privacy.
  • Confidentiality Norms: Clearly outline what company information, both internal and external, can be shared by employees.
  • Brand Voice Guidelines: Describe the tone and style employees should use when engaging with customers on social media, including when to be formal and when it’s appropriate to be humorous.

Your social media tools should include publishing rules to establish quality checks that minimize the risk of errors, typos, or inaccurate information from appearing on your social media channels.

Statusbrew Publish Rules

4. Prepare A Crisis Communication Plan

A well-prepared crisis communication plan provides clear thinking and actionable steps during a social media emergency. As mentioned earlier, quick actions are critical in a crisis, and having a plan ensures you don't have to hesitate or wait for senior management's approval.

The plan should inform everyone in the organization, from senior executives to entry-level employees, of their specific roles during a crisis.

Your social media crisis communication plan should include:

  • Criteria for assessing the type and severity of a crisis.
  • Defined roles and responsibilities for each department.
  • A communication strategy for keeping internal teams updated.
  • Updated contact information for key team members.
  • Protocols for approving content posted on social media.
  • Guidelines on using pre-approved external messages, images, or data.
  • A reference to the company’s social media policy.

5. Use Social Listening

Social media crises can strike unexpectedly, turning a minor issue into a full-blown crisis without warning. This is where social listening becomes essential. It helps you spot problems as they begin to gain traction on social media before they escalate.

You can quickly detect any negative attention by monitoring mentions or even untagged mentions of your brand. To fully understand the potential impact, keep an eye on the overall sentiment towards your brand. Social sentiment analysis helps gauge public feelings about your brand. A sudden shift in sentiment could be a signal to examine what's being said about you more closely.

Handling a social media crisis is difficult, especially if your marketing team is inexperienced in crisis management. However, listening to your audience's feedback will provide insights that help you overcome the situation more smoothly.

Social media listening tools like Statusbrew will help you listen, monitor, track, and reply to online conversations.

Social listening

Book a free demo to understand how Statusbrew can assist your brand in controlling a social media crisis with social listening!

6. Engage With Commentators

Engaging with your audience during a social media crisis shows you value their opinions and are attentive to their concerns. However, it's important to keep your responses concise and steer clear of any arguments.

You can use pre-written and pre-approved saved responses stored within your social media management platform. Personalize such responses to address common concerns or frequently asked questions (FAQs) during a crisis. Just ensure saved replies shouldn't replace genuine human interaction.

When interacting with commenters, focus on acknowledging their concerns rather than defending yourself or entering into debates. If a conversation requires more detailed attention, move it to a private message, email, or phone call. Always maintain a respectful and high-ground approach.

7. Keep The Internal Communication Active

False information and rumors about your business can spread not only externally but sometimes even within your own team. If these aren't addressed by senior management, they can quickly escalate and cause harm.

Therefore, your social media crisis management plan should include a strategy for internal communication.

Transparent internal communication helps ease the tension and anxiety that accompany a social media crisis. It ensures that everyone on the team understands their roles and expectations during the crisis.

8. Secure All Your Social Media Accounts

While it is quite obvious, it's worth noting that social media crises sometimes arise from hacking incidents.

14% of social media users have reported unauthorized activities on their accounts.

Interestingly, it's often not hackers but employees who pose a greater risk of cybercrime. This can happen through weak passwords, accessing unauthorized company files, or using the same social media login across multiple devices.

To prevent this, limit access to your social media passwords to only a few trusted team members. The more people who know your credentials, the higher the risk of a security breach.

Additionally, revoke social media access from employees who leave the company or no longer need it for their roles.

A helpful tip is to use different passwords for different social media platforms. This way, even if one account is compromised, the others remain secure, reducing your overall risk.

The risk of sharing passwords is reduced significantly when you use a social media management tool. These tools allow you to grant specific roles and permissions to each team member. So, instead of giving everyone the full account access, you can assign tasks like scheduling posts, responding to comments, or analyzing data. This minimizes the risk of someone accidentally or maliciously doing something they shouldn't do with your social media accounts.

Secure All Your Social Media Accounts

9. Hold Your Scheduled Posts

When caught in a social media crisis, it's wise to pause any scheduled posts, even if they are set for a significant holiday, occasion, or event. You should also stop any ongoing promotional campaigns until the situation is fully resolved. This is important because you don't want your customers to think you are ignoring the issue.

A post that goes live at the wrong time will make you look out of touch, or worse, it will sabotage your efforts to manage the crisis.

10. Learn From The Crisis

Although riding and overcoming a social media crisis is challenging, it's an opportunity to learn and improve. Once things have calmed down, take the time to review the incident thoroughly to understand what could have been handled better.

Treat this experience as a chance to strengthen your strategies. Analyze the root causes of the crisis and see if it could have been prevented.

Share your findings with relevant departments to better prepare for future incidents. Collect feedback from your marketing, social media, or customer service teams to refine your crisis management plans.

These insights should guide your strategy moving forward.

Create A Social Media Crisis Management Plan Now!

You don’t need to wait for a crisis to start planning for one. Creating a social media crisis management plan should be a top priority because you never know when a single action will trigger a crisis. It's always better to be prepared.

Quick responses are important in managing social media crises. Acknowledge the issue, apologize if necessary, and implement a solid plan to address it. Often, organizations only realize they are in the midst of a crisis when it has already escalated and become difficult to control.

This is why you should focus on monitoring and tracking what’s being said about your brand online. For this purpose, you can use a social media listening and monitoring tool like Statusbrew that will help you to:

  • Understand your audience better
  • Identify how people feel about your brand
  • Manage your reputation and respond to crises

Interested in seeing how Statusbrew can help you? Schedule a FREE demo with us today!

Rushali Das

Rushali is a B2B SaaS content writer who specializes in writing research-driven blog posts around marketing for B2B SaaS brands.

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