10 Easy Steps to Managing a Social Media Crisis

In today's interconnected digital world a social media crisis is always waiting to happen. The impersonal nature of the internet has given rise to a mob mentality - as any brand who has made a an online misstep well knows. So you want to know more about social media crisis management? Read on.

Brands must be prepared to deal with this situation in a practical manner. It won't do any good complaining how unfair it is. Because the question in today’s world is not can a social media crisis happen to me? It’s when will it happen to me? 

It pays off to be prepared for it – so don’t worry, here are a few things that you can do to “weatherproof” your social media before the storm.

When the first social media crisis hit Germany, a prominent blogger, Sascha Lobo, used a word on his blog that I still think is the best way to describe a social media crisis: a shitstorm.

There is no German translation for this, btw. It’s an Anglicism, and very fitting, since it perfectly describes how completely crazy a social media crisis can be. It’s not a crisis, it’s a storm full of fury, unreasonable thinking and for the company being attacked it invokes a sense of helplessness.

In many ways, the crisis itself is something that can only be weathered out. However, the reasons for it are often self-inflicted.

In the early days of social media, there were occasionally small fires to put out, many of them never showed up on the mainstream radar but today, in our interconnected world, such viral storms are all over the mainstream news.

Nowadays, there is barely a day when a prominent person, company or a product isn’t being ripped apart by an angry digital mob. Social media crises come in many flavors: as political accusations and agenda statements, as backlashes against something considered offensive, as jokes gone wrong or any other number of similar situations. 

What Can I Do Before and During a Social Media Crisis?

There are a couple of things you can do to prepare. You can improvise some of the measures on the list below - but having a well-trained social media team that knows what to do at any moment is key. And crisis will happen at the worst times ever – speaking from experience – like late on a Friday afternoon.

So here are ten tips you that help you protect your online presence and brand identity.

1. Be Prepared 

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How do you prepare for a crisis? Well, you should have a communication process that connects everyone in your business. Such processes should be stored on a document and trainings should be implemented around those procedures. If you run crisis trainings at your company, include your social media team and their work into it. Put formal steps into a crisis manual, define types of crisis, roles that employees will play, and make decision-making processes as short as possible. A well-oiled community management solution can help save valuable time before the crisis reaches unmanageable levels. 

2. Control the Process

Some crises are close to impossible to foresee or stop. To be frank, most are self-inflicted. An angry, ex-employee with access to the social media accounts? A marketing team that hasn’t informed their social media team about a new, edgy campaign? These are points where you can minimize the chance of a crisis by connecting communications between teams while simultaneously managing access to public channels through tools and state of the art security measures.

Ask yourself the following question: How many people currently have your company Twitter/Instagram password at the moment – if it is more than 5 in a 100+ employee company, reduce that number.

There are cases when a fast reaction to a critical position actually stopped a crisis in its tracks. In 2011, the Austrian Rail Service (ÖBB) was criticized on Facebook for not offering their train stations for the homeless in a cold winter so the ÖBB reversed the critique by offering heated train carriages and food from the Red Cross. This was possible due to a quick notification process from the social media team to the head of digital and a (physically) short process from the head of digital to the CEO – they literally had their offices next to each other. 

3. Educate Your Employees

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Social media literacy is not a nice-to-have for modern businesses, it’s vital. In our world, every employee with an active LinkedIn Account is a spokesperson for your company. So teach them how to communicate – or when in doubt, and in crisis, not to communicate. 

4. Define the Rules for Your Social Media Profiles

Use the Facebook imprint feature or provide a page with clear rules on how to communicate on your profiles. This won’t stop the crisis, but it will give you a clear structure and it should be clear when and how to intervene.

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5. Prepare Easy-to-Fill Templates

The first minutes of a Social Media Crisis are crucial. There is nothing worse than having a social media team in the office, looking at their screens, unable to act during the first wave of “attacks”. Keep a simple: “We are currently looking at this situation” template in your database – ideally in your community management tool. 

6. Inform Your Team/Employees and Stop Posting

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One of the least helpful things that can happen in a crisis is when it’s already slowing down and a colleague or another department publishes new content that re-inflames the situation. That’s why it’s so important to stop publishing during a crisis and tell your colleagues that they should do the same. 

7. Document the Crisis

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It’s never bad to keep in mind what started the whole mess. Therefore, document the issues people bring up and rank them in importance early on, so you don’t lose focus. People will try to add layer upon layer of blame onto your company, brand and products. Keeping your focus will be essential, it will help you craft the right messaging to get yourself out of the hole you’re in. 

8. Moderate – Do NOT Become Part of the Discussion

Maybe the hardest part. There is no need to participate in your own crisis. State facts, official statements, prepare content to share, show empathy in your answers, but don’t discuss the issue itself. You. Will. Lose. If that means posting the same old thing over and over again, do it. It’s easier to bore a mob than to engage with it.

And yes, sometimes you’ll have to delete content. Warn people, tell them to respect the rules (see point 4), but, again, do not become part of the discussion.

9. Bring In the Lawyers

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It might sound counterproductive for the Social Media department to involve the Legal department, but they should be involved in the preparation of crafting templates as well as taking an advisory role during the crisis. That way you’re covered from all angles.

10. Don’t panic

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Taking a line from Douglas Adams here: Don’t panic. Bring a towel.

Don’t lose yourself in the crisis. It can be somewhat thrilling to be part of a social media crisis. Some people take it personally even though it’s their company that is under attack. Don’t let that happen to you.

An easy way to guarantee a sort of sanity is rotation. Never let the same people be in the same crisis for too long. Rotate them every few hours. After a few hours you may get the feeling you could solve the whole damn thing with just a single sentence. 

That’s when it’s time to get up, put on your favorite music, take a deep breath and let your colleagues take over for a while.

About the Author

Nardo Vogt is a Pre-sales Manager at Socialbakers. He promises that he's never personally started a social media crisis.  

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