Image via Johan Larsson under CC by 2.0

How to Prepare for a PR Crisis on Social Media

It’s almost midnight and like any good social media manager, you’re checking everything one last time before going to sleep. As you scroll, you begin to notice that your mentions are becoming filled with Tweets about an emerging scandal, allegedly involving your company. Five of those mentions are from national journalists requesting comment.

What do you do?

Social media has dramatically changed the speed at which a corporate crisis can develop and escalate, and the ways in which companies around the world respond to them.

There is no such thing as a “local crisis” anymore. In our recent webinar—How to Manage Social Media in a PR Crisis—Duncan Gallagher, head of crisis practice for the EMEA region at Edelman, noted that 28 percent of crises spread internationally within one hour and yet, it takes an average of 21 hours before companies are able to issue meaningful external communications to defend themselves.

You want social media to help, not hinder you, in a time of crisis. With the right preparation, social media can help identify issues before they become full blown crises, and be an integral channel of communication when your company needs it the most.

Here are four key steps from the webinar about preparing for a PR crisis on social media. Watch the webinar on-demand to learn more, including how to best engage on social once a crisis is underway.

Establish a crisis management plan

When a crisis happens, it’s crucial to know exactly who is responsible for handling your social networks and what they will be doing with them. A social media crisis management plan should outline specific roles and responsibilities and be shared across the entire organization—from top executives to the most junior employees.

The people responsible for managing your social networks need to be trustworthy, proactive, and empowered. They’re often the first to see potential threats develop, so your plan should outline the exact steps they should take for each type of potential crisis, including who they should be calling and waking up in the middle of the night, if necessary.

Develop an external communication strategy

Create a strategy that clearly outlines how your business will communicate on social media in the event of a crisis. This strategy who should define:

  • Who creates each piece of communication

  • Who approves the communication before publishing

  • Which social networks you will be using

  • Whether or not you will be responding to people individually

  • Who will be posting to social networks

  • The time frame for communicating

Your strategy should also cover how your social media networks will complement and support your other communications channels such as press releases, blog posts, or videos.

Strengthen security and compliance

Investing in security and compliance technology is a wise way of protecting your reputation on social media. These tools can help manage and enforce social media policies across your organization and reduce risk. Through our partnership with Nexgate, Hootsuite offers full protection from social media threats, from spam and malware to hacking and employee errors.

Training and crisis simulation

There’s a reason that almost every building, institution, or school runs regular fire drills. You don’t want to be in the middle of a real crisis when you discover your plans don’t hold up.

Educating your employees will help them understand both the risks and benefits of using social media, mitigating the risk of employee error. They’ll be better equipped to monitor social media and proactively identify any issues, while knowing exactly what to do if a situation begins to escalate.

We suggest running crisis simulations on a bi-annual basis. Identify the three types of crises that would impact your business the most, and then practice running through your complete plan and social media response. You’ll learn valuable lessons about how long it actually takes to execute your plans and can identify and gaps or weak spots that require more attention.

Watch the Webinar

Our webinar speakers

Duncan Gallagher

Head of Crisis Management, Edelman

Duncan has over 20 years of PR experience and is a specialist in crisis and issues management. Responsible for leading the Edelman Europe & CIS Issues Practice, Duncan has advised on issues including redundancies, product recalls, major crimes, data breaches, food contamination, malicious hacking, industrial accidents and fatalities, high profile closures, litigation support, and media and regulatory investigations across the globe.

With a keen interest in the digital space Duncan has developed and delivered scenario planning and training sessions for a number of blue chip international companies, presented media response training sessions at board level, produced internal crisis communications manuals, and written training guides.

Merinda Peppard

EMEA Marketing Director, Hootsuite


In her role as Marketing Director, Merinda is responsible for leading Hootsuite’s marketing in EMEA. Her team positions Hootsuite as the social relationship platform of choice by managing integrated marketing programmes to educate large enterprises on how to unlock the business value from social media. You can find Merinda on Twitter @Peppard where she frequently writes about her love of Dim Sum.