How to Handle a Social Media Crisis

Morgan McLintic
Published on March 07, 2012
By Morgan McLintic

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Social media have changed the nature of the crises faced by brands. Beyond the event-based crises which we typically think of, such as a product recall, brands also face far more informational crises. These involve misinformation or negative perceptions spreading about a brand, undermining its value. Social media increase the frequency of this type of crisis, and the speed with which it breaks.

As a brand guardian, you’ve probably set up your listening post to monitor the discussion about your brand, products and industry. You are measuring the impact of the positive message you are communicating. Then boom – out of left field comes a major issue. But when a crisis breaks, what next?

It’s all about PEACE.


The best crisis management happens before the issue breaks – knowing what might occur, preventing it if possible, determining the response process and materials. If you haven’t had a chance to do this, move it up the priority list.


Establish the facts. Your response needs to be commensurate with the potential impact of the issue. Within a social media landscape, there are plenty of tools to evaluate the impact of negative messages. An inappropriate response can eclipse the crisis itself, so use data, not emotion, to gauge the reaction.


The context should help you decide the action plan. From a communications perspective, this includes decisions about the spokesperson, the content of the response and the channel. Consider whether parties outside the organization can respond on your behalf – that will be more credible.


Keep the crisis comms team small, and make sure everyone knows only that team is to comment on the topic to anyone outside the organization. The more people involved, the greater the chance the message gets confused.


React quickly. You have less time than you think. Delay may compound the problem since it makes it look like you don’t care. Post a holding comment if the issue will take time to research.

Now that we’ve determined that a response is appropriate from the organization, what do we actually say? This can be the hardest part.

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