Preparing for a Social Media Crisis: Before it Happens

content marketing, content management, newsjacking, social media, digital marketing, SEO, online marketingAt Strategic Communications, we are firm believers in the value of social media and online publicity for a business. It’s a huge part of what we do and what we advise our clients to do. But, while the impact of social media on a business is overwhelmingly positive, there are occasionally situations that have the potential to be extremely damaging to a company’s reputation and livelihood. We’re talking, of course, about the dreaded social media crisis.

Know a Crisis When You See It

Convince and Convert provides some tips for handling social media crises and offers three characteristics of a social media crisis:

  • Information Asymmetry: When the company doesn’t know any more than the public about what’s going on
  • A Decisive Change from the Norm: Some companies regularly deal with specific types of negative publicity and know how to handle these instances. For these companies, a crisis occurs when something novel and unexpected arises.
  • A Potentially Material Impact on the Company Overall: Consider the scope and scale of the potential impact. Are you likely to lose a customer? A thousand customers? More? Could you face legal action? Is your brand irreparably damaged?

So now that we know what a social media crisis looks like, how do we deal with one?

Plan Ahead

Perhaps the best way to handle a crisis is to anticipate it and prepare in advance. What this requires is upfront planning, consideration and documentation to allow your business to identify and respond to a wide array of situations. You won’t be able to anticipate every potential crisis you may face, but dedicate some time to brainstorming the most likely issues to face your type of business, market, geography, etc. Then come up with action plans to address each of these potentialities. For example, if you’re a restaurant, have a plan in place in case someone gets sick after eating your food. If you’re in a regulated profession, plan a response in the event of some kind of public sanction or alleged rules violation. If you’re in healthcare, be prepared to address a negative patient outcome.

Review your Plan with Key Staff

Simply having a crisis plan in place doesn’t do any good if nobody is aware of it. Educate and communicate with all company representatives so they know how to respond to a crisis and can help you hit the ground running when a crisis occurs. A crisis by its very nature is hard to anticipate. You could be out of touch on a vacation or on a plane when a crisis hits. It’s crucial that your staff knows the right things to say and do. Even more importantly, they need to know what not to say and do.

Keep your Ear to the Ground

You need to be aware of a crisis in order to respond to it. Obviously, if the story is big enough, you’ll hear about it eventually, but it’s far better to spot a potential crisis in its infancy and deal with it before it gets out of hand. Early detection also helps gauge the severity of the situation. As Charli Day writes for Agora Pulse, “Listening to your audience is essential because your next move will depend on their sentiment towards you.”

Be Quick to Respond

The most important thing that marketers and business people need to recognize in this digital environment is that they don’t have a great deal of time to discuss, contemplate and respond to situations that arise. When a crisis strikes, you need to act quickly. The longer the time between an incident and your response the more opportunity there is for speculation and, often, misinformation, to fill the gaps. Be quick to respond, even if your initial response needs to be: “We are looking into this and will report back at (date/time).” The sooner, the better.


Your business may be fortunate enough to never experience a social media crisis; however, you certainly can’t rely on that kind of luck. Invest some time and brain power in crafting your crisis response strategy and communicate it regularly and clearly to your key staff.


Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement



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