Nick Ehrenberg

How to Maintain Your Reputation During a Social Media Crisis

Nick Ehrenberg     Online Marketing, Reputation Management

social media crisisIn our digitally-driven age, most companies will eventually encounter a social media-driven crisis. Perhaps an employee accidentally tweets an insensitive remark on the company account, or the business is suddenly caught in a whirlwind of negative commentary on Facebook. Whatever the case, you need to be prepared for any blowback that might occur – and it likely won’t be comforting.

Whether the crisis was instigated internally or externally, it’s important to develop a social media crisis plan before engaging with your communities.

Here are six tactics to help manage a social media crisis:

1. Establish Social Media Crisis Guidelines

Does your social plan account for crisis responses? Even if a post or comment seems harmless, your followers might be confused by the sudden shift in messaging. Create guidelines for responding to posts or comments during a crisis. In most internal cases, an offending post should be deleted – and a correction or apology quickly offered. For external comments, evaluate the content before deleting it – most followers won’t appreciate being silenced on the company page.

2. Respond Immediately, and Follow Through

Don’t let offending posts linger on your account. Pull them immediately, and issue an apology or retraction. This shows that you are actively monitoring your social channels – and that you give great weight to your brand’s social reputation. Follow up on this retraction post by responding to user questions and concerns, so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to hide from the crowd.

When a rogue tweet was sent criticizing President Obama on the KitchenAid account, the company’s senior director of marketing took control and invited followers to discuss the issue.


3. Be Sincere

The worst crisis response on social media is the copy-and-paste response. Companies use this to blanket networks with the same prepared remarks, often in direct response to consumer questions and comments. Such a strategy leaves the company in reactionary mode, flailing their virtual arms and hoping things will get better.

Applebee’s found itself under scrutiny earlier this year after they fired a waitress for posting a customer’s receipt on Facebook. Users flocked to the company page to express their frustrations – which prompted Applebee’s to commit several sins of social media.

After deflecting blame and trying to stifle the conversation, Applebee’s simply began publishing the same post for each commenter:

Applebee's tweet 1

Applebee's tweet 2

Effective crisis response begins by putting a sincere, human face behind the messaging. When a company resorts to copy-and-paste social crisis management, all sincerity and authenticity is instantly lost.

Use Humor…When Appropriate

It may not be effective in every circumstance, but humor can be used to quickly deflect a crisis situation. The American Red Cross posted a clever reaction tweet after one of its employees accidentally posted about her evening plans on the organization’s account:

Red Cross Tweet

It’s a gutsy move to respond with humor, so make sure your audience can get the joke. Otherwise, you’ve only made the problem worse by appearing aloof and desperate.

4. Monitor Scheduled Posts During Crisis Response

Social management programs like HootSuite are valuable for organizing your content, but they can also disrupt your crisis response at exactly the wrong time. As you respond to the situation, make sure any previously scheduled marketing posts aren’t published in the meantime. It doesn’t help your brand to publish unrelated content as you manage your response. Suspend scheduled posts until you’ve fully addressed the situation according to your social management plan.

This should also be done in the event of a national or global crisis, so your brand doesn’t appear disconnected or insensitive.

5. Use Follower Feedback to Update Your Response Plan

After the crisis has died down, evaluate your social team’s strategies and tactics. Research new ways to control social content, and revamp your crisis plan based on feedback from followers. Learn from your mistakes, and you’ll be less likely to repeat them.

Social media communication is instantaneous, and it can magnify mistakes in seconds. Use these tips to prevent brand miscommunication, and ensure your social management plan is fully equipped to handle crises. Your brand’s online reputation can survive an accidental tweet or post – but only if you act fast to remedy the situation.

Does your company have a social media crisis plan at the read? What monitoring tools are you using to stay on top of potential developments?

Photo source: Shutterstock

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  1. Make sure you stay on top of things. Be quick, but smart. Don’t jump into anything without a plan.

  2. Avatar Chris Syme says

    Good post and reminder for brands to plan ahead so they don’t have to react. I wanted to mention one thing about humor: more companies have got into trouble using it than those that have been successful with it in a crisis. If you analyze why Red Cross was able to get away with it, there are a number of factors that make their situation unique. Nonprofit, extremely well-loved to begin with, rogue tweet was really a harmless mistake, etc. When visiting with brands, I always want them to know that humor in a crisis is usually not a good idea. There are too many cultural values to deal with and most people only direct their humor at one group’s sensitivities and miss the rest.

    • Thanks, Chris! I agree that humor shouldn’t be the first response to a crisis, and you’d need substantial credibility with your audience before even trying it. In most cases, it would just make the company look immature. For anything beyond a simple mistake or error, it’s best to be serious.

  3. Avatar James Perrin says

    Hi Nick, great tips here. I think for any company having some sort of strategy in place is imperative – even if it’s the simple, basic stuff. In fact, it’s the simple basic stuff that’s the most effective, like responding timely, being polite, taking the complaint away from public viewing and dealing with it privately. I’ve read so many horror stories that it’s not worth taking the risk, not even for a bit of publicity – because it can be way too damaging to your brand. Great post, thanks for sharing the tips.

    • Glad you agree, James! There are indeed
      far too many stories where companies aren’t ready when a crisis strikes – and their reactions do little to solve the problem. It isn’t worth long-term brand damage to be unprepared.

  4. Informative post and discussion. May it inspire all of us in our moments of social media crisis to take a deep breath, assess the situation and apply authenticity and humanity in our responses…and make sure we have a second set of eyes on shared accounts at all times.

    While we’re at it, this advice is valid even without a crisis.

    • Thanks, Bill! It is crucial not to panic in the
      midst of a crisis, and a robust social crisis plan helps everyone keep calm.