Guide to Social Media Crisis Communications

Megan Redzia - 03/18/2021

If your organization experiences a crisis today, there's a good chance it will start - or eventually hit - social media. Learn how you can prepare for a social media crisis, monitor for crisis situations, and manage a social media crisis in this blog post.

social_media_crisisThe adoption of social media by people of all ages has created both crisis communications opportunities and challenges for organizations. Social media can be a beneficial tool for controlling a crisis and communicating with customers and employees in real-time. On the flip side, the rapid spread of messages via social media makes organizations more vulnerable to serious reputational damages.

In this post, we’re going to focus on the later situation – managing a crisis that goes viral on social media. We’ll provide you with a complete guide to a winning social media crisis communications strategy.

Building a Social Media Crisis Communications Plan

If the COVID-19 pandemic taught businesses one thing, it’s that the time to prepare for a crisis isn’t when a crisis happens. Being proactive can make the difference between coming out of a crisis on top or a crisis putting you out of business.

Although it’s impossible to predict the specifics of a crisis, there are commonalities between all social media crisis situations that allow you to develop a plan that can be easily modified. Here are four key components that should be included in your social media crisis communications plan.

  1. Social Media Policy – Do all your employees know what they should or should not do on their own social media channels? If you answered yes, then congratulations, you’re already a step ahead! If you answered no, then it’s time to develop a social media policy that provides clear guidelines on how employees can conduct themselves online. Many crisis situations begin with an employee posting something inappropriate. A social media policy is the first step towards preventing these situations. Besides hiring the right people 😉.
  2. Escalation Team – You’re a hospital and a patient posts a video of a nurse mistreating them in the emergency room at 12:00 pm. Do you know exactly who should be notified during off hours? Establishing an escalation team involves identifying all individuals who need to be contacted in the event of a crisis. The escalation team should vary depending on the size and structure of your organization, but it may include the CEO/owner, members of the marketing team, your public relations agency, and legal counsel.
  3. Define a Crisis – What you would consider a crisis really depends on your organization, your vertical, and your target audience. You don’t want to raise all the red flags and kickstart crisis measures if it isn’t a “true” crisis. An everyday negative review about your product isn’t a crisis, for example. But your product causing physical harm to a customer is a crisis.
  4. Establish Your Key Messages – You cannot prepare specific responses and statements for crisis situations, but you can establish your key messages. Your key messages should communicate your company’s core values and reflect your brand voice. With things moving so fast during a crisis, you don’t want to lose sight of who you are and what your customers value about your organization.

Monitoring for Social Media Crisis Situations

I’ve had multiple client situations where our social media monitoring protocols pick up a crisis before the client is aware it happened. It’s never fun having to place a call that sets a crisis communications plan in motion (who likes ruining someone’s day?), but it has also saved our clients valuable time.

In today’s age where posts and videos can explode so quickly online, it’s critical to have a social listening tool. There are many monitoring tools available that all have different functionalities and price points. No matter what your budget, you can find a tool that can help you monitor for mentions of your brand online.

It’s equally important to determine who is responsible for managing your monitoring tool. You can have the most advanced social listening software out there, but unless you have individual(s) dedicated to using it, critical mentions can go unnoticed.

The social listening tool we use at 3E PR, Sprout Social, shared some examples of real-world crisis situations, here.

Managing a Social Media Crisis

Even the most amazing organizations can experience a social media crisis. Remember that a social media crisis is not often a reflection of your business. Rather than taking it personally, focus on how you can control the situation. Here are six tips to help you manage a social media crisis.

  1. Put a Hold on Your Content Schedule – You don’t want to come across as tone deaf to your audience. If a customer is posting about a piece of glass in their food, then you don’t want to be sharing your Cinco de Mayo lunch specials. If you have content scheduled, make sure your first step is to pause it. Don’t plan on resuming posting content until the situation is under control.
  1. Notify Your Team – You established an escalation team as part of your social media communications team for a reason. Implement the phone tree and get everyone in the loop so they can be prepared.
  1. Assess Damages – Take stock of where the crisis is being mentioned. You may have been notified of the situation because someone posted on your Facebook page, but did they also hit up your review sites such as Yelp and Google? Are they posting in private social media groups that have thousands of members? You’ll want to know where the damage is being done so you can develop a plan to minimize it.
  1. Act Quickly, But Not Without Strategy – This may be the most important step in successfully managing a social media crisis. You only get one shot to share your perspective. Make sure you analyze all aspects of the crisis. What about the post is true? What is false? What other interactions have you had with the individual? What employees were involved? What are their accounts of the situation? Have these conversations quickly to identify what your positioning will be and then develop a response strategy.
  1. Acknowledge Concerns and Don’t Argue – The customer isn’t always right, but social media gives them a public platform to recruit others into believing they are. Your response should address the concerns the individual has and carefully communicate your stance. Do not argue with the person who had a negative experience or with the bandwagon of people who are attacking you on their behalf. Yes, the crowd mentality is very common during social media crisis situations 😉.
  1. Moderate All Channels – Once you have developed a strategy, make sure you implement it across all channels where there are mentions of the situation. This will go a long way in making sure prospective customers aren’t swayed by negative opinions they see when they are considering your brand.

You know the saying it takes a village? Well, that is very true when it comes to social media crisis communications. If your internal team needs help developing a social media crisis communications plan, we can help. Email me at for a free consultation about your social media crisis communications strategy.

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