Crisis Response Across Channels—Best Practices for Social Media

Today, social media represents the front lines of just about any brand crisis. But don't wait until you see a crisis coming to start planning. For a complete guide on how social listening can help protect your brand, read our ebook on using media intelligence to manage crisis.

Social media lets your business connect with an audience in real time. It can also accelerate negative comments about your business. 

If a digital PR crisis occurs, you need to be ready to give a quick response to help minimize the damage done. Preparation is key to responding to a crisis across all of your business’ channels, and it can ensure a smooth and effective response that helps to restore public trust in and loyalty to your business. The following tips can help you make that happen.

Understand the Importance of a Fast Response Time

When a brand crisis takes place, it’s vital to respond quickly and genuinely, ideally within minutes or hours of the issue occurring. Anger carries quickly on the internet, and a single social media post can rapidly turn into a much larger issue that’s more difficult to manage. Instead, be prepared to get ahead of the issue from the start. 

Pepsi’s response to the controversy surrounding its ad starring Kendall Jenner is a great example of how brands need to move quickly in times of public crisis. The company was accused of trivializing societal issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement for marketing purposes. Pepsi promptly responded on social media and released an official statement, apologizing and immediately pulling the controversial ad. 

A quick response along with effective communication can help you rapidly minimize the effects of a crisis, so establish ways for your business to conduct social listening and ensure a prompt response. Be sure to set up social media alerts and monitor all of your business social media accounts for negative comments, tweets and hashtags. Using Google alerts for the company’s name and relevant keywords can also ensure that your communications team will immediately know about brand mentions, so you can effectively manage your brand reputation online

Create a Crisis Management Plan

Establish a PR and social media crisis management plan so that your business is well-prepared to quickly respond in a potential crisis. Know the appropriate role of social media management in creating and executing your strategy. Map out the steps that you would take, including which of your team members would take the lead in a crisis response. Focus on details, like who will be responsible for strategizing and writing a response, and how those people will come together – whether it’s an in-person meeting, a conference call, or another strategy – to quickly respond. 

Realize that no business can ever anticipate all of the situations or actions that could anger an audience and cause a crisis. Instead, be prepared to be humble and honest with your audience in your crisis response. For instance, when Nike came under fire for not providing its sponsored athletes with paid maternity leave in 2019, the brand’s initial response was on the defensive side. Nike stated that it had changed its policy in 2018 to support female athletes, but didn’t go into detail. 

However, the brand then assumed a more humble tone, admitting that it could and would do better. This prompt response, paired with an honest apology, won over Nike’s audience and turned the crisis into a win for the brand. If a brand as large as Nike can admit that it made some poor choices, this strategy of an honest apology can work for your business, too.

Establish and Train a Response Team

As you develop your crisis plan, you should also create a crisis communication team equipped to deal with these issues. This team should include your social media team or social media managers, your public relations team, and even your CEO. Create a chain of command and identify responsibilities so that all team members know what their role will be during a crisis. 

Be Prepared with Channels

Work to streamline the crisis response process as much as possible. This means outlining your specific strategy and the channels you would use, such as posting to your website and social channels, and working with press contacts to quickly push your response out. 

Don’t forget the importance of working with your influencers, too. It’s possible that your influencers could receive angry comments on their own social media posts, so plan to communicate with your influencers during a crisis. Reach out to them initially to let them know of the issue and explain that your business is preparing a response. Once your response is ready, send it to influencers along with guidelines on how they should handle negative comments on their posts. 

Check in Regularly

Establishing your response team is an important step, but it’s equally important to hold regular team check-ins. These meetings let team members share their insights with one another, strengthening the team’s knowledge and preparation on the whole. 

You won’t always be able to anticipate threats or missteps, but if there are hot-button issues or conversations circulating, it’s important that your whole team is aware of their potential to experience a crisis. You can also gain awareness by studying the crises or challenges that your competitors are facing. Consider having your team draft or outline a response to some of these challenges so that there’s some initial preparation if one of these situations does arise. 

All of these exercises help in mastering crisis management, but hopefully your business will never need to put an actual plan into effect. Regardless, when you’re prepared with a great plan, it can help you tackle risk management, or handle any issues that do arise.