How to Deal with a Social Media Crisis the Right Way

By Grazel Gueco

Business social media today is an always-on marketing channel where your customers are chatting and tagging 24/7. The bigger your social media community, the more activity you will need to keep track of. Your marketing team is constantly engaged in discussions, and when something goes wrong, it’s important to move fast. A social media crisis can be any flurry of negative responses (that may reflect real-world decisions and opinions) directed at your company – for any reason.

Social media crises can happen at any time. It might be a badly timed automated post or a poorly worded post from an employee. The trigger may not have even occurred on social media, but that’s where people are talking about it. When a social media crisis occurs, it can quickly snowball out of hand and there are, unfortunately, dozens of examples of what not to do (ex: blame the customer). The best answer is to already have a social media crisis plan in place.

Causes of a Social Media Crisis

A social media crisis can come from any direction.  Often, it’s in response to a poorly timed or worded post that strikes the wrong note with your audience, but it could also come from any source that offends or upsets your customers and is then posted on social media.

  • Accidentally offensive, insensitive, or poorly timed content
  • One employee’s mistaken wording in a post blows up
  • Your brand in a recent negative news story
  • A recent tragedy at one of your facilities
  • Poorly handled customer service
  • A prank or revenge post on your social media account

What a Social Media Crisis Looks Like

How do you know when a social media crisis is occurring? With the constant conversation and brand mentions, it can be tough to keep track without a skilled community manager at the helm. The best solution is often to set up alerts that detect negative responses and pings you when the concentration rises above normal. However, simply skimming your inputs can show you the following sign that a social media storm is brewing.

  • A flurry of negative social media posts responding to or tagging your brand
  • A sudden negative conversation about your brand
  • A wave of negative reviews in a cluster
  • General public outcry against your company, brand, facility, or specific staff member

Build a Social Media Crisis Plan

The most dangerous time in a social media crisis is the beginning when your brand’s responses shape public opinion of how you handle a crisis. One wrong message can blow it up to ten times worse, like the Cinnamon Toast Shrimp Tails fiasco. Never say “Customer, you are wrong. Plus, it wasn’t us.” in response to public outcry.

Even if the customer is in the wrong, or lying, or there was a mistake, your responses need to be careful, measured, and extremely polite during a social media crisis. The right response can even win you more respect from your aware and loyal customers. Having a plan that everyone knows about can prevent a critical slip-up and put you back on track to winning the hearts and minds of your audience.

How to Handle a Social Media Crisis Situation

When a social media crisis happens, turn to your community manager as the head of your social media recovery team. They know your audience best and can take the lead in helping to take the lead in alleviating a social media crisis.

1. Stop Automated and Unapproved Posts

First things first, make sure nothing unauthorized goes out. Gut-reaction posts and scheduled content can both be a disaster in the wrong crisis context.

The trouble with automated content is that it can appear tone-deaf in a crisis. A good example is a crisis caused by a product malfunction. The last thing you want is an automated promotion of that product, it would look like the brand doesn’t care about the harm that might be done before the issue is solved.

So stop the posts. Pause your automated content and re-strategize before posting anything in response to the crisis.

2. Delete the Offending Material

It has become customary to remove the original offending message (if there is one) from your account. This shows the audience that you disavow the content and it does not speak for the brand. For posterity, trust that there will be plenty of screenshots if people are mad enough.

3. Release an Initial “We’re Sorry for the Inconvenience/Mistake” Message

Take responsibility, first and foremost. This is a customer service problem in many ways so follow the customer service doctrine. Say “We’re sorry for the inconvenience/offense/mistake and we’re working hard to get to the bottom of the issue right now. We’ll update you as soon as we know how this even happened. Our brand does not stand behind this sentiment/statement/event”. 

Even if you suspect the responsible party, never lay blame first. Do not, Do Not say that it was a rogue agent or even a distributing location. Not yet. Remember the cinnamon shrimp.

4. Figure Out What Happened

Start your in-depth investigation of the social media crisis after you have issued your initial apology for offending your audience or allowing an offense to take place. Look into where the crisis came from, the original posts that kicked off the storm, and find out just who or what is responsible for the outrage. Put together a report and a neutral, apologetic way to talk about it.

5. Apologise or Take Responsibility

When you’re sure what’s going on, make an apology and an announcement at the same time.

You might say “We deeply regret the inflammatory content of the recently mentioned post. We realise this captioned photo seems to make light of a very serious personal issue that came across as hurtful and insensitive. We have taken down the post and addressed the source of the caption. Rest assured, our brand takes X issue very seriously and we apologise with all our hearts to those who were hurt or offended by the content.”

or “After investigation, we have found the shrimp tails originated from the X manufacturing plant and we have scheduled a complete health and safety audit in response. We are appalled that this risk to your health was permitted and we deeply regret you having found these unhygienic and unintended cereal contents in your box. We will strive to ensure this never happens again. Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention.”

6. Offer Public and/or Private Remedies

Offer to remedy the situation. Now is your chance to make things right with specific people and your audience as a whole. Following the previous example, if a crisis relates to an insensitive remark about a medical condition, get public and active in a charity to try and do some good to “undo any harm” the crisis may have caused. If specific people were wronged (like the Cinnamon Shrimp guy), offer to privately compensate them for the experience or inconvenience.

A graceful recovery can win back the opinion of many of your customers, including those who were upset or disadvantaged in the first place.

7. Ask Your Audience What to Do

Lastly, get your audience involved. They want to see that their voices are making a difference, so keep that momentum going by asking how they suggest you can make things right in their eyes. This shows your audience that you really do care about their opinions – and more than as buyers of your products. You want your brand to feel like their brand, and are willing to do what it takes to rebuild that trust and connection.

Is your brand ready for a social media crisis?

A skilled community management team can help you not only handle a social media crisis but come out the other side gracefully, showing your audience that your brand is more than one clumsy or inflammatory piece of content.  Contact us today to learn more about our plans.