How to Prepare for, Identify, and Manage a Social Media Crisis | Hootsuite Blog
Image via Unsplash under CC0 1.0

Social Media Crisis Management: How to Prepare and Execute a Plan

If there’s one thing that spreads faster on social media than word of a new Beyoncé album, it’s public outrage. In fact, as reported in the New York Times, “anger is the emotion that spreads the most easily over social media.” This means a small local issue has the potential to spiral into a full-blown international crisis quickly—something no brand can afford.

With the right preparation and strategy, social media can be an essential tool for identifying potential crises as they emerge, and managing them effectively in order to minimize the damage to your brand and business. Here’s how.

How to prepare for a crisis on social media

The only reason the saying “hope for the best but prepare for the worst” has become somewhat of a cliché is because it’s really good advice. After all, the worst time to be deciding how to handle a crisis on social media is in the middle of said crisis. Here are two key ways to prepare ahead of time.

Create a social media crisis management plan

Having a company-wide plan in place will empower you to act quickly and effectively when a crisis begins. Instead of wasting time debating how to handle things on social media, you’ll be empowered to take action and prevent the crisis from growing out of control.

Outline the exact steps everyone should take on social media during a crisis—from top executives to the most junior employees. Include a list of who should be contacted at each stage of a potential crisis, and provide guidelines for how all employees are expected to communicate on social media.

Your social media crisis management plan should include:

⏭ Guidelines for identifying the type and magnitude of a crisis.

⏭ Roles and responsibilities for every department.

⏭ A communication plan for internal updates.

⏭ Up-to-date contact information for critical employees.

⏭ Approval processes for messaging posted on social media.

⏭ Any pre-approved external messaging, images, or information.

⏭ A copy of the company-wide social media policy.

Run social media crisis simulations

The middle of a real crisis is the worst time to realize your plans don’t hold up. Identify a type of crisis that would have a big impact on your business and practice running through every step outlined in your plan. It will give everyone a better sense of how long it really takes to execute the plan, and help to identify any gaps or weak spots that require more attention.

Along with creating a social media crisis management plan and running drills, you should also ensure you have existing protection in place against these common social media security risks. You can also download The Five-Step Guide for Better Social Media Security for more in-depth information about safeguarding your social efforts.

How to identify a potential crisis on social media

Listen carefully

As a social media marketer or community manager with at least one eye on the internet at all times, you’ll often be the first person in your organization to notice a potential threat starting to emerge on social media.

Setting up streams in Hootsuite to monitor specific keywords or hashtags can help you stay proactive in identifying these potential crises. Here are eight things you should be monitoring to protect your brand on social:

  1. Your company name
  2. Your products and/or brands
  3. The competition
  4. Customer service inquiries
  5. Influencers
  6. The CEO
  7. Your media spokesperson or PR representatives
  8. Keywords related to your industry

Set crisis thresholds

As you identify potential issues in these conversations, you’ll need to decide whether they should simply be observed, managed with one-on-one responses, or escalated to full-blown crisis status. One way to do this is by setting thresholds for the volume and sentiment of social media mentions, and outlining the action that should be taken at each one. These thresholds should be based on the normal amount of social media activity your brand generates and the increase in volume and frequency that would indicate a crisis.

For example, let’s say you’re the social media manager for a sports apparel company that just released a big budget ad campaign. You have a search stream set up in Hootsuite tracking the campaign hashtag, and start to notice some negative Tweets about one of the television ads. You look to your thresholds to determine next steps:

  • Less than five negative mentions per hour: Continue monitoring closely. Compile a report for senior management to review at the end of the day.
  • More than five negative mentions per hour: Begin assigning messages to the public relations manager in Hootsuite.
  • More than 10 negative mentions per hour, for more than three consecutive hours: Contact the CMO on her cell phone, and begin officially rolling out the social media crisis management plan.

How to handle a crisis on social media

Act fast

Social media provides a portal for frustration and anger to escalate into mass outrage at a speed that companies must be prepared to match—but many aren’t.

In a webinar we hosted on how to manage social media in a PR crisis, Duncan Gallagher, who heads up crisis practice for the EMEA region at Edelman, noted that 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.

Not using the real-time nature of social media to your advantage is where many companies stumble in a crisis. Social media offers a public forum to immediately acknowledge the situation while you work on fine tuning more in-depth communication materials, such as getting a prepared statement released, media interviews coordinated, or information up on your website. A simple message from a company acknowledging the issue and letting people know that more information is coming soon can help contain the negative sentiment around an issue and prevent it from spiraling out of control.

Let people have their say—but don’t argue with them

You’re discussing an issue with your significant other and every time you open your mouth to voice your opinion, they ignore what you say and talk over you. You probably recognize this as the classic recipe for making a small disagreement escalate into an unnecessary all-night argument.

The same thing goes for crisis management on social media. No one wants to feel like they’re being ignored, especially when they’re frustrated. Responding only to positive comments (or worse—deleting the negative ones) is evasive, and will only add fuel to the fire.

When you do decide to respond to people directly, keep it short and avoid going back-and-forth. After your initial response offer a phone number, email address, or other means of communicating outside of social media. Even though this may not make everyone happy (some people just love to yell on the internet), you’ll at least demonstrate the company’s transparency and willingness to speak in a public forum. And as social marketing expert Jay Baer put it, “crisis management is a spectator sport.” You make a good impression on the people who matter.

Communicate internally

As important as it is to quickly send out external messaging about the crisis, communicating internally with employees is also crucial to prevent misinformation and the spread of rumors.

Make sure everyone in the organization knows exactly what they should (or should not) be saying about the crisis on social media. If you have messaging about the crisis that you want to get out as far as possible on social media, Hootsuite Amplify offers an easy way to distribute pre-approved company messaging to all employees that they can then share across their social networks.

After the storm—next steps

Once the crisis is over (but while the experience is still fresh), hold a debriefing session with everyone involved. Cover what worked, what didn’t work, and update your crisis management plan accordingly.

Here are some more Hootsuite resources about crisis management and safeguarding your social media efforts:

With Hootsuite, you can monitor what’s being said about your company on social media, giving you the opportunity to react as quickly as possible in the event of crisis—and maybe even diffuse the situation entirely. Try it free today!

Sign Up for Free