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How Can I Manage a Social Media Crisis?

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Managing escalating crisis on social media is no longer a question of “if” but of “when” or even ”how often”. To help you be prepared and tackle such issues, this article explains the 5 most common social media crisis types, 6 tips to get your prepared and an 8-step checklist to handle any active issues when the times comes.

There are many types of crisis, but the following are the 5 types most frequently seen on social media. That is not to say these are the only kinds, but these are the most frequent ones that you can prepare for today. So let’s talk through them. In my recent presentation to the Colorado Chapter of the American Marketing Association I focused on the first three with lots of examples. If you want to see some in more detail, take a look on SlideShare.

5 Types of Social Media Crisis

  1. Organizational misdeeds: The most avoidable of all crisis. Organizational misdeeds range from personal tweets accidentally posted on corporate accounts and posting tweets without finalized copy, to a company doing some shady stuff, that is getting surfaced in social media conversations. Need an example, think VW emission crisis.
  2. Natural or environmental crisis: This does not mean it has to be something that Mother Nature did to us, it just means that you, as a company, often don’t have any impact on this crisis unfolding. So while hurricanes can represent natural crisis situations, the “#MeToo”  movement, also represent a natural crisis, because it happened without any single company doing something wrong. Yet, many organizations had to deal with it, up close, and personal. Think Netflix and the Kevin Spacey allegations.
  3. Malevolence: This is usually the result of active negative behavior, such as bullying, attacking or slandering others with harmful intent. Remember Disney and “Youtube Star ”PewDiePie? Yeah – that one.
  4. Technology crisis: As a company, covering up technical issues and failure to protect customer data is a huge crisis. The Equifax breach of 2017 is a great example that many Americans will remember for the next generation. But if you work in the tech sector, I would say you are intimately familiar with zero-day vulnerabilities that were uncovered and posted about in 2015/2016. Heartbleed still sends shivers down my spine.
  5. Financial crisis: are often related to corporate wrongdoing. Corruption and bankruptcies, that impact employees or customers’ financial well being are highly publicized. I am sure you can think of plenty, if not, look up John Mackey, Wholefoods CEO and his postings on Yahoo Finance Stock forum 2007. And then think about what ethical business behavior means to you.

Social Crisis Statistics

Understanding these crisis models, I am sure you are now thinking to yourself: “Wow, this is happening everywhere and to everyone. I am the only one who is not ready and prepared.” – I thought the same when I started my journey with social crisis management. Alas, that is not the case. The good news is, you are not alone and you still have time to catch up. The bad news is, you are not alone and we all need to catch up before something terrible happens and we are not ready for it.

Social Crisis PreparednessA recent PadillaCRT poll of 100 companies revealed that only 43% of companies are in a place where they can respond to social media crisis within 15  minutes. This means they have a process, they know their stakeholders and have the technology and skills to pick up something that is unfolding on social media. But only 19% of all surveyed actually have their messaging ready. This is scary. Seeing with what regularity social media crisis are happening today and how quickly our society moves to  judge or abandon brand loyalty if no or no-adequate response is provided, I find these numbers to be very concerning.

6 Tips to Get You Prepared

So how do you prepare for a social crisis? Should you even prepare?

Um, duh! If you are unsure, you have not been listening. If you have not been in this situation yet, get ready. It’s coming your way.

  1. To prepare, you want to first and foremost do an inventory check. What are your known vulnerabilities? What are the key standards that your customers, the government, any governing body etc. may expect of you? For us, in the financial services industry, data security for our clients is our highest priority. What is yours? Current political hot topics include: Outsourcing, veteran affairs, offshoring production, immigration and trade issues. Taxes, prescription drug prices, foreign investment, consolidation are a few more you might want to think about. So what is your company’s soft underbelly?
  2. Then go and get your story straight for the most probable issues you may be facing. Are there any articles, studies or press releases that you could link to if the time comes? Have you got your processes ready, your stakeholders identified, do you have a committed SLA to turning answers around for crisis situations?
  3. If you can, simulate a crisis. If you don’t know how, there are lots of companies out there that can help you. Here is one: but there are many more out there.Don't step on snek
  4. Take precautions. Employees should NOT be permitted to share login credentials of their social media accounts and your corporate accounts if you use a social listening platform. Just don’t do it. Don’t!
  5. Last but not least, nurture your relationship with your fans and advocates. If you are closely aligned with your Tweeps, they will come and protect you or speak up on your behalf. Just like they did for Starbucks.

Your 8-Step Action Plan

If the perfect storm comes to be, what should you do? There is a pretty simple action plan you can follow.

Social Crisis Action Plan











  1. Don’t hide, it won’t make the issue go away.
  2. Act quickly, social media does not sleep.
  3. Accept that mistakes happen. You are human after all.
  4. Use humor if it fits with your brand or your audience. 
  5. Keep emotions to yourself until Happy Hour. Then you can cry, bitch or scream over a glass of wine. It’s ok.
  6. Find your partners, you can’t tackle this alone! Find friends in PR, Legal, corporate communications, your boss!!!
  7. Since we are talking social, stick with your 250 characters. You don’t need a full explanation on Twitter, that’s what PR can help you with. Be brief and link to more relevant info on your site or somewhere credible.
  8. Measure everything. Even if this was your first time, it won’t be your last. You won’t learn anything if you don’t know what you did right or wrong. Anecdotes are nice, but not nearly enough to make sure you are top notch in protecting your brand, your company and your own job. Get the data flowing and share it with your partners, so you can all do better next time.

Remember, not all mistakes are a crisis, some just need some humor to diffuse. But there are storms out there that need your full attention. Let’s get ready for them, with a cup of coffee an easy to follow process. If you have any questions, hit me up, or check out more details in this deck.

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