There are all kinds of situations that can go wrong for a brand to trigger a social media crisis. Whether it’s a poorly timed tweet, a typo, or even a scandal, you need to be ready to deal with a crisis. It is equally important to prevent one from happening. The best way to do this is to plan in advance. Having a strategy for both preventing a social media crisis and reducing the impact of one can significantly help.

In this blog, I’ll give you 5 tips to prevent a social media nightmare, as well as strategies to ease the pain should something go wrong. 

Be Prepared for a Social Media Crisis

It’s easy to go into panic mode if your brand is suddenly flooded with negative social media coverage. Not all companies have the resources to secure a team solely responsible for crisis management. If you fall into this category, ensure each individual on the team is aware of their duties should something occur. Having an agile team of people who are ready to react in an instant. This will ensure everyone is aligned and all necessary steps are taken.

Next, create a list of stakeholders who should be kept in the loop. Those who you should reach out to will depend on what the crisis is, and the severity of it. So, think ahead about the kinds of things that could go wrong and create a situation analysis. Did a member of your staff put out an inappropriate tweet? Is there an issue with your product or are you involved in a legal battle? Typically employees, shareholders, and customers will be on your list. Also be sure to include in your plan the best way to get ahold of these stakeholders should an emergency arise.

Be sure to create a template press release or statement. This will save you a lot of time and will allow you to react quickly. There will be pressure to make a comment, but don’t be hasty. Avoid sending press releases before you have all the details of the crisis and a plan of action.

Finally, produce a clear set of response protocols for all staff. No matter how big or small your business, anyone associated with your brand needs to be aware of what they should and should not be saying during a crisis. As a rule of thumb, advise employees not to discuss a crisis without consent from your crisis team. The reason for this is that you want your communications strategy to be aligned. A rogue employee discussing the challenge online only adds to the social media crisis.

Simply creating a strategy for a social media crisis can diminish the impact and prevent it from turning into a social media nightmare.

Find Your Brand Advocates

According to Nielson, 92% of people trust brand advocates. The likely reason for this is that brand advocates are authentic, passionate and don’t have an ulterior motive for raving about your brand.

Brand advocates can often lessen the impact or even prevent a social media crisis as they will come to your defence when you receive negative coverage. Build these relationships prior to a social media crisis occurring. Turning customers into brand advocates can be daunting, but it is an achievable goal that can really help you should a social media disaster occur.

We spoke to our client Elliot Nichols, Head of Public Relations at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, as crisis comms is a large part of his daily role. In order to lessen the effects of a crisis, Elliot gets influencers involved.

“We try to build relationships with people who are both trusted and have a genuine media following. To find that person is difficult but hugely rewarding because they have the ability to genuinely move opinion on a local level,” Elliot comments.

Remember, we shouldn’t judge influencers purely on the size of their following. A micro influencer can have a smaller but more engaged community. “I call these kinds of people ‘below-the horizon influencers. They have lots of power within a certain demographic. Meltwater’s social influencers tool means finding very specific influencers is much faster.

Learn more about how Meltwater can help you find your brand advocates & influencers here

Social influencers can help rebuild your brand post social media crisis

Monitor Your Mentions

An additional way to prevent a social media nightmare is to use social listening tools. A media intelligence platform is critical in helping you step outside of your internal bubble and see the bigger picture.

Media monitoring allows you to search for your brand, competitors, or industry keywords. A theme cloud can help you get to the bottom of the situation and find the reason why showing you trending words associated with your brand at that moment in time. Meltwater’s Media intelligence platforms use artificial intelligence to allowing users to be alerted when they receive an unusual amount of brand mentions. AI searches for anomalies in data and gives you the head up before the storm has fully hit.

Like most things in life, the quicker you spot a problem, the easier it is to deal with. The same applies to social media crises.

Another top tip from Elliot Nichols (Head of PR at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust) is using Meltwater Engage to scan through and prioritise mentions.“Crises can be misinterpreted, particularly on Twitter,” Elliot explains. Having a feed with all the social media mentions allows users to determine the reach of a social media crisis, as well as the influence of those speaking negatively.

Using an engagement tool to reduce the impact of a social media crisis

In our recent crisis comms webinar, Elliot tells us that responding to negative comments is not always wise. For example, sometimes the same person will post the same complaint across every social media channel. This could make it seem like lot’s of people are complaining, but in fact, it’s only one person. Additionally, someone with a small following, who regularly complains to other brands, is less concerning than someone with a huge online presence.

“During the NHS cyber attack, Meltwater’s Engagement platform was the only tool we had access to. It helped us stay informed about what was being said online. Meltwater engage allows us to easily scan through mentions and prioritise which ones need responding to first. The colour coding system for online influence is particularly valuable.” These features help Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust save time and maintain a quick response time to mentions, something that is important during a crisis and when replying to customer service social media requests.

Create an Internal Social Media Guidebook

Having brand guidelines is paramount to success. Whether you have one person running social media or fifty, ensure everyone is aware of how they should be communicating with your business social media pages, as well as on their own personal social network channels.

A few things we’d recommend including in your social media guideline checklist:

  • The importance of spelling and grammar
  • The importance of ensuring your tone of voice matches your brand
  • The need to keep up to date on current affairs: a poor choice of words after a national disaster can cause huge offence. Earlier this year, Adidas sent out an email with the subject line ‘congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon’. This caused huge backlash online due to a terrorist attack that occurred at the Boston marathon in 2013.
  • The importance of asking someone to look over a post before you send it. Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever.
  • The need to remain apolitical. However tempting it might be to retweet a critique of a politician, generally you should avoid discussing politics on a business page—unless it is directly relevant.
  • Avoiding arguing with others

As well as the above, we’d recommend creating a list of scenarios and the kinds of responses social media teams should use. While you want employees to bring personality to their communications, having a response chart can be useful to ensure they stay on message.

The Do's and Don'ts for managing a social media crisis

Have Security Measures in Place

PC security is one of the most obvious but often the most forgotten elements to include in your crisis communications plan. Update your computer, use separate passwords for each account, and create strong passwords.

If you have lots of people running social media, use a social media management program. This means users won’t need the password to the profile itself, but a login for the social media platform. The advantages of this: 1) the fewer people with the password, the less risk of the account being compromised 2) tweets can be attributed to specific employees.

Social media doesn’t have to be a source of stress if you’re well prepared for anything that can come your way. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be able to handle anything that comes your way.

Further resources about crisis comms: 

WEBINAR: How to deal with a crisis 

BLOG: How to write a crisis statement

EBOOK: Media Intelligence for Crisis Comms

This post is adapted from my post on The Marketo Blog 10/4/17 


If you’re interested in finding out more about how Meltwater can help you prevent or manage a social media crisis, fill out the form below!