Once a post is published, it’s out there. While things can be deleted, users see what a brand posts within seconds, and turning back isn’t always an option. The world of social media moves quickly, and it can be easy to get swept up when not taking the necessary actions to ensure your brand is equipped to handle whatever may come your way – that’s where social media crisis management plans come into play. 

In a cancel culture, reactions, virality, and misinformation are no longer a matter of if but a matter of when, and having a social media crisis plan ready is one of the best ways, in addition to social listening, to address, alleviate, and remedy a crisis promptly. 

What Is a Social Media Crisis?

In our view, a social media crisis is any negative activity in the social media space that can directly impact your brand’s reputation. 

A brand’s reputation can quickly turn south, and for many reasons. Here are a few examples: 

  • Content that disregards diversity, or offends a specific minority group
  • Posting regularly scheduled content during a world crisis
  • Resharing harmful or violent content (this is obvious)

A crisis is the response to a brand “oops”. But, it isn’t just your average troll comment, customer service snafu, or out-of-stock product frenzy. A social media crisis will have your inbox inundated with negative mentions, calls among users to cancel your brand, an influx in overall earned mentions, and possible legal repercussions. 

Audience behavior can only be predicted to a certain degree and if/when a brand’s prediction is wrong is when problems arise. 

Having a social media crisis management plan in place can help brands to best control, address, and resolve crises. 

Benefits of Social Media Crisis Management Planning

Planning is an important aspect of marketing in general, and plans are needed when launching marketing initiatives. So, if you’re going to use social media for your brand it only makes sense to have plans in place for both good and bad attention. Below are four reasons why creating a social media management crisis plan is beneficial. 

Helps identify potential threats 

To identify potential threats your team needs to brainstorm every possible seedling, and further set guidelines and who and how those will be identified. Typically, a social media crisis management plan provides a system in which a brand can elevate negative mentions to the appropriate teams. It also helps to understand what isn’t considered a threat and doesn’t need further action. 

Helps in creating a communication culture 

Communication culture drives conversations, engagements with humans, and distribution of information while also giving people the opportunity to share their voice; it’s transparency for those within and outside of the organization to have a basic understanding of a company’s purpose.

When employees know their social media chain of command, understand their social media guidelines, and have communication processes in place they are better equipped to communicate both internally and externally, especially during a crisis. It allows employees to provide transparency to the public. Communication culture is an avenue for showing authenticity and empowering humans to be heard. 

Utilizes data-driven reporting to pinpoint risks 

Data-driven reports tell a fact-based story. These reports allow for narrowing down the “when” and “why” of a potential crisis, and importantly the source of the issue. They also help teams to form key messages that won’t cause further damage. Examples of data points used within these types of reports could include:

  • Total mentions 
  • Sentiment breakdown with examples
  • Post sources breakdown 
  • Word clouds capturing themes, both negative and positive
  • Highlights of news/media mentions, if the crisis was trending and where, and top authors 
  • Timelines focusing on sentiment, demographics, and mentions 

Allows for quick action when presented with a crisis 

Crisis plans not only work to reduce the amount of conversation happening about your brand, but also give you the leeway you need to implement the response and resolution before things really get out of control. 

Within your crisis plan, your community management or social media team will know a clear procedure on who to elevate the issue to, and further steps to take in the meantime. An example of a mitigation step is a response template that buys time. Often brands will draft pre-written responses that let customers know that they are working to resolve the issue as fast as they can, letting them know they are being heard.  Failure to create this path can leave the brand vulnerable to greater damage, such as viral information (or misinformation) spreading. 

How Social Media Impacts Consumer Purchasing Decisions

So why does all this matter? Sure, a crisis plan can mitigate negative impact, but what about other business implications, such as customer loyalty and profit? As a 24/7 community management agency, we’ve seen it all. The truth is that crisis moments impact everything, and crisis moments on social media hold larger implications than they did 10 years ago, based on the sheer growth and usage rates of the industry itself. Social media is the place to socialize, buy, tell your story, and sell. Therefore it is not only a key factor in customer purchases but also sentiment and loyalty to brands. 

Consumers now buy directly from social media networks 

A reported 77% of millennials and Gen Z shop on social platforms. With social media, news travels more quickly leaving less time to manage a crisis and more opportunities for a crisis to occur. Having that many shoppers using social platforms brings forth a greater risk of data crashes, site crashes/obstacles (poor user experience, loading errors, payment issues, etc.), and poor customer service as a brand may not have been prepared for a resurgence in activity. More consumers are using social platforms to shop since they can scroll and select products without ever having to leave an app.

Further, algorithms and ad targeting have assisted marketing efforts by enabling marketers to find defined audiences based on behaviors – because of this consumers don’t always have to rely solely on themselves to seek out products that suit their needs. Social platforms have adapted to commerce by initiating call-to-action buttons, specialized links, and sections specifically for purchasing on Facebook Marketplace or Shopify. 

ICUC’s CPG & Retail can help with an approach beyond counting “fans and followers.” 

Consumers are heavily influenced by ratings & reviews on social networks

With a few clicks and a quick search on any social platform, we’re able to find reviews on whatever products we’re curious about. Social media has given us free, real-life feedback with 82% of people trusting social networks to guide their purchase-making decisions. Social media holds a lot of power and consumers trust other consumers to deliver genuine, helpful insights. If a crisis occurs via reviews and it passes through unmonitored, there is potential for that review to deter consumers from purchasing, or worse, a brand could be inundated with so many bad reviews they tarnish the brand’s reputation.

On the other hand, monitoring reviews helps a brand to understand how the consumer views their products, identifies issues before it’s a full-blown crisis (defective products, recalls, etc.), and gives insight into what’s resonating or not with their audiences that can later be used towards marketing strategies. 

Consumers expect two-way engagement with brands

Two-way communication provides transparency, fosters trust, humanizes brands, and helps to make the consumer feel more valued. Social media has made it easier for consumers to interact with brands directly and in return, they demand an answer. Our advice to brands: meet your customer wherever they are. While you may only respond to inquiries over email, there are likely dozens of direct messages on Instagram waiting for your attention. 

Core Elements of a Crisis Management Plan

There are 5 core elements of a crisis management plan. Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements.

Risk analysis

Identifying what could potentially go wrong and having a plan of action for those scenarios is part of risk analysis. Teams may opt to set up a flowchart to develop a comprehensible path of action. From there, you can develop a social media crisis management template, which consists of your response plan, internal and external communications, and follow-up best practices.

Response action plan

Setting ourselves up to handle worst-case scenarios will only help to compile responses more quickly when time is of the essence. It’s knowing when and how to elevate issues that creates a smoother defense. This is where having a social media crisis management template comes into handy. Your template will give your team the when, what, and how of the response. 

Internal & external communication

Communication should continue to flow. First and foremost, your team should be transparent internally to keep everyone on the same page. Then, establish instructions on elevation procedures – perhaps a junior employee identifies the crisis moment, so in this case the communication layout will inform that individual where to go next. Horizontally, all teammates should know the issue so as to pause other communications as needed. Externally, this likely isn’t the moment to make a full statement. But your template should include fast responses that acknowledge the event and ensure time to gather more information. 

Resources & training 

Social listening is one of the best resources that can be used in a time of crisis. Utilize the ability to extract and analyze data. Understand and use platform sources themselves to have a better grasp of the space as a whole and to make more informed decisions. Teams will be able to glean sentiment, word usage, and demographic data. Part of the social listening process is training — empower your team with proper training beforehand, so they have direction when facing a crisis. 

Review

After you’ve run through the above, teams should take time to dissect key elements of a crisis to apply to future scenarios. Take sentiment, the volume of mentions, the impact of the brand reputation, and residual commentary into account as well. Learning opportunities, like a crisis, can add a layer of protection when working in the social space. 

Best Practices for Social Media Crisis Management

Here are the key best practices when dealing with social media crisis management.

Detect

Bring out the magnifying glasses! Set up social listening to monitor conversations around the brand. Understand what typical conversations are happening online regularly, so you’re able to catch onto potential threats before they become a full-blown crisis. You’ll be able to detect abnormal variations in sentiment and volume of mentions along with other KPIs.

Identify

Recognize what is a crisis and what is not a crisis – not every troll comment is a crisis. Here’s an example: Starbucks is regularly mentioned, by consumers, for spelling their name wrong on their order which is not new to Starbucks and therefore isn’t under the guise of a crisis. It’s when an unmistakable difference of criticism transpires that indicates the first sign of a social media crisis. 

Range and size are the second indicators of a crisis. One person angrily tweeting about UPS damaging their package isn’t a crisis, but UPS losing an entire freight of packages — and facing an amassing amount of social media commentary and criticism — is a crisis. Know the difference. 

Another sign of a social media crisis is when the situation affects other brands/companies/organizations that aren’t directly involved. The Ukraine invasion may not be a direct issue for your brand, but how you handled the situation, knowing the social climate, is. When the public knows more than your company does, there’s a chance for error in the form of lacking empathy. 

Consider & control

Pause scheduled content (continuing to post normally after a crisis can come off as tone-deaf and apathetic) and any outbound messages. By pausing content, you stop adding fuel to the fire. Accept there’s a problem – denial should be checked at the door. 

Respond 

Again, timeliness is key. Acknowledgment in a timely manner will help with the overall situation. It’s important to respond as quickly as possible, even if your company is still working out the issue internally. A recent social media crisis management example is the scandal with Balenciaga’s “Gift Shop” campaign, which became a trending topic on Twitter and left many users outraged. Despite this, it took the brand over a week to respond

Audiences and the public expect you to address the situation immediately, and we don’t want time giving them space to become angrier. It’s best to respond on the platform in which the problem first occurred, and from there you can take your statement to other platforms. Community management services can help address and respond to a crisis around-the-clock.

Tips to Manage a Social Media Crisis

The following tips can help you not only manage an oncoming crisis but also learn from it to strengthen your crisis management planning. 

Protect and restrict social media login information

In times of crisis, ensure there hasn’t been a security breach on any platforms. Avoid weak passwords. Share passwords only when necessary as the more people who have access present more opportunities for security breaches. Use access restrictions when available. If there has been a security breach you should 

  • Identify the type of security breach and its extent
  • Escalate the incident to the necessary parties 
  • Inform and communicate with any affected parties both inside and outside of the organization
  • Collect evidence of the situation 

Engage in social listening 

A great way to get in front of a crisis is to continually monitor your brand within the social space. Through social listening tools, we can review mentions, sentiment, and volume daily, and if we understand how our audiences normally operate then we can identify issues faster. Social listening gives brands insights directly into their audiences. 

Twitter is a hub for news updates and it’s a platform people use to express opinions and connect with brands.  If a crisis is coming, chances are, it hits Twitter first and if you have social listening tools in place you will have access to those conversations (mentions, commentary, replies, etc.) automatically, giving you a heads-up sooner. You want to be the first to know, not the last.

Use it as a learning opportunity

Mistakes are learning opportunities. Brands can leverage data, insights, and planning strategies to better understand the who, what, when, where, and why of a crisis. Then we can use those answers to strengthen our social media crisis management plan. 

Documentation is our friend throughout this process – keep copies of mentions, conversations, tweets, etc. along with emails received during that time. Determine when the crisis started and where it started.

Evaluate how internal communications were handled, if the response guide worked, and analyze both traffic patterns and volume patterns. 

Our skilled analysts can aid in creating best-in-class social listening reports to keep your brand ahead of the game. 

How to Build a Social Media Crisis Management Plan

Always plan ahead. The following steps will set you up for crisis management success so you are ready if and when the time comes. 

1. Identify the risk

Create guidelines to evaluate the kind of crisis at hand and its immensity. Set rules and responsibilities for departments involved (not everyone in your office works on the Chucky Cheese account, but those who do and your legal team should be included). Develop social media rules that create safeguards before ever deploying content. 

2. Research & evaluate the risk

To understand the risk, we need to understand all elements of the situation (who, what, when, where, and why). The research comes into play as a means to comprehend. We look into the situation deeper and have solid, factual information that can be used towards the next steps. From there, we can evaluate the current impact, the type of response required, and the core reasoning behind the crisis. 

3. Choose your key messages

You can respond quickly and still deliver the wrong message, so remember the company’s purpose and values when creating a message. When we can’t control what people are saying we should lean into what can be controlled, our word. Remember to review possible outcomes that may come up as a result of addressing the issue. 

International retailer H&M received widespread criticism for an ad featuring a young black child sporting a “coolest monkey in the jungle” sweatshirt. As emphasized by the New York Times, the image was widely criticized online for its reference to a monkey, an animal that has long featured in racial and ethnic slurs. The mistake went viral, fueled by criticism from widely known artists and influencers as well. H&M soon thereafter acknowledged the mistake and responded with a key apology over Twitter: “It is obvious that our routines have not been followed properly. This is without any doubt.”

In crisis moments like these, key messages should take accountability and align fully with your brand identity. Do not get into back-and-forth conversations with trolls or negative mentions. Keep replies at a minimum to show that you are engaging productively while keeping things professional. 

4. Select the channels of communication

Know where the crisis began and start with that platform, then share to additional platforms based on the magnitude of the crisis. 

5. Stay in touch with the target audience 

Pausing scheduled content should not stop overall communications with your audience – continue to respond to audience inquiries as a crisis is not an excuse to go radio silent. The audience should know that despite the crisis we are still there for them as a whole. 

6. Update your social media pages

Depending on the type of crisis that occurred, it’s a good time to update your social pages. The likelihood of your page garnering more attention during and after a crisis is high; therefore, your pages should be the top source of information, and providing updates can position your brand as such. 

7. Ask the audience for reviews & feedback

One way to understand how the public feels about your handling of a crisis is to ask. Carry over transparency from your crisis acknowledgment and create room for your audience to share their insights. We can learn directly from their perspective which can be applied in a multitude of ways later. Asking for feedback can also show the audience that your brand cares and is looking to better itself. 

Review how your team is staying up to date with trends and evaluate if you need to implement changes based on the crisis the brand experienced. If there are changes to be made, make them! Add social listening monitoring, create a document of sources to check regularly to stay informed, and double-check current happenings before scheduled content is deployed. These additional steps could help to stop a potential crisis before it starts. 

Conclusion 

Unless your brand never posts on social media, you’re never going to be completely safe from a crisis. It’s how we prepare for the inevitable that sets us up to handle the situation better. 

Let us help you conquer the world of social media, together. For additional information on how we can help, send us a message today.

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