How To Handle Social Media in a Crisis #Semrushchat

Liza Perstneva

Jan 23, 201713 min read
How To Handle Social Media in a Crisis

The rise of online media and the growing popularity of social networks have led to the unprecedented explosion of easily and quickly accessible information. Modern companies have at their disposal a number of channels to communicate with their customers. However, this reality also means that sometimes businesses have to face a social media crisis and be able to manage it.

To figure out how to effectively handle social media in a time of crisis, we invited Shayla Price to our SEMrush Chat. Shayla is a B2B marketing strategist, a content marketer, a speaker, a social media marketer, and a contributor to Entrepreneur, Shopify Plus and HostGator to name just a few.

When it comes to negative feelings, Teddy Wayne explains that “anger is the emotion that spreads most easily over social media.” This means that you have to be prepared for a crisis that can grow out of even a small issue.

Q1. What is your definition of a social media crisis?

When somebody posts a negative tweet about you or your company, it doesn’t necessarily signify an immediate social media crisis. For example, James Ellis ‏ @thewarfortalent remarked that negative reviews aren't always bad, rather they create the feeling of authenticity and make your brand look more real.

According to Raven Tools, a social media crisis as an online situation that has, or risks having, a harmful effect on your brand’s reputation. Let’s see how our guest experts define this term.

In Shayla Price’s opinion, negative responses from your company’s customers due to its inappropriate behavior can lead to a social media crisis. In fact, companies can face a crisis for multiple reasons, including service outages and product recalls.

Also, Shayla pointed out that brands may sabotage themselves and cause a crisis by posting insensitive materials on social media. For instance, a company can post an insensitive tweet or inappropriate picture that will trigger a negative response from its audience.

It’s usually difficult to predict if a crisis situation will spin out of your control.

Jay Baer describes three main characteristics of a true social media crisis. One of those characteristics is a decisive change from the norm, for example a significantly different line of social chatter.

Sooner or later, every company has to face negative comments and feedback about its brand. But imagine that this negativity became far more serious than you can handle. In this case, you need to scope and scale the situation in order to avoid the risk of very bad consequences that would be difficult to eliminate. “A crisis occurs when the volume negativity is far more than your company can handle or severe enough to tarnish your brand,” tweeted James Haagenson ‏ @ProgrammaticJim.

Bill Slawski ‏ @bill_slawski pointed out that a social media crisis is an event that’s highlighted and shared across online and offline media and can negatively impact the reputation of a person or a brand.

However, Grant Simmons mentioned that there’s a big difference between a social media crisis and negative reviews. Not every bad review or tweet will necessarily lead to a crisis that will damage your reputation.

Let’s sum up the main characteristics of a social media crisis.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q1

Sergey Doudy ‏@sergeydoudy also pointed out one more thing that can cause a social media crisis. Not having a real social media strategy and defined KPIs is not a catastrophe in itself, but it can lead to very serious problems.

Q2. Is it vital to incorporate a social media crisis plan into your corporate crisis management plan? Why or why not?

Now that we’ve defined the concept of a social media crisis, let’s figure out if a social media crisis plan is vital for your company.

Our special guest is sure that having a crisis plan is very important, because businesses need to know how to prevent and respond to such situations. She pointed out that a good plan prepares your brand to effectively identify a problem, assess the damage and quickly react.

Lindsay Kavanagh made a comparison between a social media crisis and a natural disaster. People create escape plans, read emergency information, and take other important measures in order to prepare for a natural disaster and better protect their families and themselves. The same is true for a social media ‘disaster.’ By being properly prepared for a crisis, you minimize the damage.

James Haagenson remarked that even though it’s very important to be able to react quickly in a crisis, reacting poorly could do even more damage to your business.

As the saying goes, bad news travels fast. Indeed, in the Internet age, any information spreads extremely fast, especially when it comes to bad news and false rumors. If your company is involved in a scandal, people will soon talk about it: ”Not to mention, customers and others around the world will be talking about it on social, so you need to be there to respond,” tweeted RevLocal.

Bill Slawski agrees that having an emergency plan helps you better respond to most social media crises. You must know beforehand how to respond to a negative review or disparaging comment.

No doubt, it’s better to have a well-developed crisis management plan in advance than to create one after a crisis occurred.

Enggar Pradityo N. ‏ @enggarpradityo pointed out that social media today can “talk” louder than our own mouths, and it can have a very bad effect on your company. Therefore, it’s better to have a social media crisis plan, so you can properly and quickly respond to a crisis when it occurs.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q2

A good crisis management plan prepares your brand to react quickly and anticipate an upcoming social ‘disaster.’

Q3. Can you think of any examples of big brands that went through a social media crisis? How did they handle it?

It’s not uncommon for companies that actively use social networks to communicate with their audience via social media to deal with a crisis. Nevertheless, some brands handle such situations better than the others.

Here’s a list of companies that have faced a social media crisis.

1. Chick-fil-A

Despite a social media firestorm and a boycott of the brand that were caused by its president Dan Cathy’s controversial statements in 2012, Chick-fil-A experienced an influx of sales in the same year. Since issuing the outrageous statement, the American fast food restaurant chain has lost control of their Facebook account and was deprived of some of its long-standing relationships. Surprisingly, Chik-fil-A’s poor decisions didn’t hurt the company’s sales much. Nevertheless, two years later, Dan Cathy said that he regrets his words and the company is still working to convince its consumers that it doesn’t discriminate against anyone.

2. Cinnabon

Cinnabon’s tasteless tweet about Carrie Fisher’s death inspired resentment all over social media. Even though, as Cinnabon said, this notorious tweet was meant as a tribute to the actress, the company had to apologize for it.

3. McDonald’s

In 2012, McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #McDStories. The company hoped that it would inspire its customers to share nice and interesting stories about Happy Meals. Unfortunately, it had the reverse effect. This hashtag gave rise to many acrid tweets that described some very bad stories.

4. US Airways

Another social media fail was caused by an extremely graphic photo shared by US Airways. It depicted a naked woman in an improper pose with a toy plane. The company also had to apologize for this inappropriate image, saying that it removed the tweet and is investigating.

5. KitchenAid

KitchenAid, an American home appliance brand, made a huge mistake when it posted an insensitive tweet about President Obama’s grandmother. Even though the tweet was quickly deleted, it aroused much controversy all over online and offline media. Cynthia Soledad, its head of branding, promptly posted several tweets with apologies and assurances. But there has already been some damage to the company’s reputation, considering its customers began posting on Twitter that they will abandon the brand.

6. Wendy’s

2017 has just begun, but Wendy’s has already faced a social media crisis. They tweeted and then deleted an image of “Pepe the Frog” — a humanlike frog created by cartoonist Matt Furie that’s also known as the “Sad Frog” — dressed as the Wendy’s girl. The thing is, the Anti-Defamation League declared Pepe to be a “hate symbol,” despite the cartoon creator’s good intentions. Twitter users were quick to notice the tweet, before it was deleted, and denounce the fast food burger chain for its inconsiderate act.

Check out a few other brands that faced a social media crisis in the following recap.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q3

What’s easy to ruin can be very hard to restore. Hopefully, you will avoid the same mistakes that these brands made, so you don’t have to repair your damaged reputation.

Q4. What are some general tips you’d give a company dealing with a social media crisis?

Crisis management is a critical function of any organization. Getting it wrong can quickly become a very expensive mistake for your company.

Here are six general tips for handling a social media crisis.

1. Own your mistakes

First of all, our special guest recommended addressing the problem as soon as possible by owning your mistakes. If your company’s crisis was caused solely by your social media team, you need to take full responsibility for the issue. Then, as Shayla Price said, you need to acknowledge the damage and empathize with the public. Don’t forget to apologize to those who were offended because of your company’s mistake. After you manage the issue, you need to discuss how to prevent such a crisis from happening again.

2. Find the source of the crisis

As soon as you assess the situation, you also need to track down the source of the problem, whether it’s an insensitive tweet, false information, or other offensive materials. Once you’ve done it, delete it. Make sure to delete only your own material and keep any users’ and followers’ responses and comments. Deleting the offensive material and offering a public apology usually won’t solve all your problems. However, it can be a good start.

3. Be polite and stay calm

Whatever happens, even if you’re not the one to blame, you must be polite with the social media public and stay calm. Listen carefully to what people say and respond appropriately. Don’t try to talk like a tough guy, otherwise, you’ll twist the knife in the wound.

4. Be quick to respond

A social network is a dynamic medium where information spreads very fast, and it takes only a few seconds for feelings to burst into rage. You need to act quickly in order to prevent an issue from escalating into mass outrage and spiraling out of control.

5. Be honest and transparent

Traffic Jam Media pointed out that honesty is the best policy, and I couldn’t agree more. Trying to wiggle out of the problem is one of the worst possible options. You should be honest and transparent with your audience by acknowledging your faults and sincerely apologizing.

6. Have a crisis management team in place

Amanda Vera shared a good piece of advice: to have a crisis management team in place. The right team members will make sure that your brand can professionally and skillfully respond to its audience during a crisis. In some cases, you must also involve a legal team in the process. “Know what people may complain or ask you about and have a plan for each circumstance. Hire the right people to respond to them,” tweeted Tony Stephan ‏@OmnipoTony.

Sometimes it’s possible to avoid a crisis by simply thinking before you speak or post something. “Think before you speak. Sometimes apologizing without knowing what it's all about is just as bad as making the faux pas,” remarked Gabriella Sannino ‏ @SEOcopy.

SEMrush Chat Recap Q4

If a crisis occurs, stay calm and treat the issue like you would treat any other critical situation by acting logically, addressing the problem, and making proactive changes to avoid getting into the same trouble again.

Q5. What are the next steps after a social media crisis?

Once a social media crisis is over, it’s time to take steps to make sure you won’t repeat your mistakes.

1. Evaluate your crisis management plan

When the crisis is over, discuss it with everyone who was involved and evaluate your crisis management plan. You need to understand what worked and what didn’t work. This knowledge will enable you to update and improve your plan accordingly.

2. Learn

It’s always important to learn from your mistakes. Not all companies try to benefit from making mistakes, which is why they keep repeating the same ones again and again. By gaining invaluable experience from a social media crisis, smart brands learn, grow, and improve.

3. Rebuild your brand’s image

It’s important to restore your credibility when a crisis occurs. To do this, you need to nurture your customer relationships. Our special guest recommended finding advocates for your brand who will spread a positive message about it.

4. Keep promises

Make sure to fulfill everything you promised your customers during a crisis. Otherwise, it will be extremely hard to regain their trust and loyalty. More importantly, never make promises that you know you can’t keep.

5. Maintain the same level of customer engagement

It’s important to maintain the same level of customer engagement when the crisis is over. If you post regularly only in a time of crisis, it won’t pay off in the long run. Keep your social media activity consistent and constant all the time.

Let’s sum up!

SEMrush Chat Recap Q5

A social media crisis can easily escalate and damage your company’s reputation. Therefore, you need to act fast, communicate proactively, and get the situation under your control in order to restore your audience’s trust.

Follow the tips from this post to prepare for and properly handle a social media crisis.

We would like to thank Shayla Price and our other chat guests for sharing their expertise!

New Ebook


Author Photo
Liza PerstnevaLiza Perstneva is a Social Media Manager at Semrush and a #SEMrushchat host. Follow Liza on Twitter.
Subscribe to learn more about Social Media
By clicking “Subscribe” you agree to Semrush Privacy Policy and consent to Semrush using your contact data for newsletter purposes