Brand Reputation

Five easy steps to manage social media crises

In today’s interconnected world of social media, brands must be more vigilant than ever. A single mistake can trigger an avalanche effect, spreading through the internet in an instant. Social media crises are a shared fear among marketers and an endless source of schadenfreude for consumers – almost every day we hear of yet another brand being dragged over the coals for any number of reasons.

Perhaps no company handled a social media crisis worse than United Airlines did in 2017. A video appeared on social media showing a passenger being forcibly dragged off a United aircraft by security personnel for refusing to give up his seat to make room for maintenance workers. The video was damning enough – but the way the company responded to the crisis ensured the incident would live in infamy for years to come.

So how do you handle social media crises? What’s the proper way to approach and contain such incidents? Read on and find out!

How to manage social media crises – five easy steps

  1. Be prepared
  2. Take responsibility
  3. Be earnest in your messaging
  4. Make things right
  5. Draw conclusions and do better

Step one – be prepared

Benjamin Franklin once said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. He’s not wrong – spending a lot of time preparing for an incident will save you a lot of headaches further down the line, or prevent any crises from occurring altogether!

As such, it is well worth preparing. This involves ensuring any and all points of contacts between your brand and its customers have established procedures and guidelines for communication and service, so that your employees are never put in an ambiguous situation. Closely observing your customer service channels is also a must – a lot of social media crises happen because of poor customer service experiences.

Most importantly, start monitoring any and all mentions of your brand on social media. Dedicated tools (such as our own SentiOne Listen) not only monitor your mentions, but also provide you with analytics, sentiment detection, and anomaly alerts. This means that if the volume and tone of your mentions spike or shift suddenly, you’ll be the first to know – allowing you to respond rapidly.

Step two – take responsibility.

The worst thing you can do once an incident happens is to reply late or avoid responsibility. Many past crises could have been avoided entirely if the brand in question owned up to their mistake – however serious it was – without trying to deflect responsibility.

The most common mistake is by far issuing a tone-deaf apology. You know the one – instead of saying “We’re sorry we offended you” the brand says “We’re sorry you felt offended”. It’s usually an attempt to deflect responsibility from the brand. Despite how popular this type of response still seems to be, it almost always makes the situation even worse. Customers can see through the smoke and mirrors and are not easily fooled – it is in your best interest to not even try.

Tone-deafness doesn’t just extend to the initial apology. Take the recent example of UPS. In early December 2019, a UPS delivery truck was hijacked by two armed gunmen, which led to a chase and a police shootout in which the UPS employee driving the truck, who was taken hostage, as well as a random bystander, were shot and killed by the police.

In their initial statement following the incident, UPS said they “appreciate law enforcement’s service”, which was widely interpreted as condoning the widely-criticised highway shootout. It also reportedly didn’t cover the funeral costs for the killed driver, which forced the victim’s family to start a GoFundMe campaign.

Yikes. Don’t do that.

Step three – be earnest in your messaging

Like we mentioned earlier, customers will see through any insincerities. Don’t ever, ever try to fool them. Be transparent and sincere. Determine what caused the incident in the first place, figure out a way to address the issue and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again – and communicate all of that.

Don’t shy away from admitting your mistake. If you’re the talk of social media, there’s usually a good reason for it – own up to your error.

Depending on the severity of the crisis in question, a press release and info page may be necessary. These will be talked about and picked apart in the media – which means the previous warning is twice as important. If the particular issue affects large numbers of your customers, make sure you provide them with a one-stop source from which they can learn everything about the situation.

Most importantly, though, don’t rush your statement. A short initial statement to the tune of “We are aware of an incident and we’ll release more information soon” will do as a rapid response – make sure you have all the facts before you issue a full statement. You don’t want to have to walk back statements based on assumptions or wrong information.

Step four – make things right

This should be a no-brainer. Social media crises happen because someone was wronged – and it is your responsibility to make things right. Figure out who the victim of the situation is and compensate them for your mistake. Acknowledging your mistake and issuing a sincere apology is just one part of the overall solution.

Once all parties involved are satisfied with their compensation, take steps – publicly – to avoid further incidents. Demonstrating that you’re willing to go the extra mile will pay off, as customers appreciate goodwill and effort from brands.

Step five – draw conclusions and do better!

We’re coming back full-circle to step one. Like we mentioned previously, you should take steps to ensure further social media crises don’t happen. However, you should also investigate what created the conditions that allowed the incident to happen – is it a problem with your company culture? Are your guidelines not clear enough on certain topics?

It is also worth keeping an eye on your competitors – or even on brands from entirely different lines of business. If news of a social media crisis breaks, ask yourself an important question: “Could this happen to me?”

Keep reviewing your guidelines, processes, and other points of contact your customers have with your brand. Stay vigilant, and stay prepared.

Closing words

Although social media crisis management may sound like a difficult task, in practice it’s very simple. All it boils down to is:

  • Acknowledging your mistake in no uncertain terms
  • Publicly taking steps to address the issue and compensate those who feel wronged
  • Making sure the incident can’t happen again.

Of course, proper tooling can help identify and anticipate potential issues and crises before they happen. Our very own tool, SentiOne Listen, is a comprehensive solution for social media monitoring – if you’re interested, get in touch with us to schedule a trial.