social media how toDoes your brand have a crisis response plan in place?

Do you know what tactics to use to defend your reputation online?

In this article, you’ll discover three examples of reputation crisis response and seven steps for defending your own reputation online.

Why Reputation Matters

global survey by Deloitte ranks reputation as executives’ top strategic risk. The study found most reputation management programs don’t support their business strategy well.

It’s important to understand the way online conversations roll out.

Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Anyone’s voice in social media can be heard.
  • Companies can have more difficulties than individuals in avoiding bad news.
  • Due to online social and web search, kindred spirits can easily become aware of others who share their criticisms.
  • Bad news travels faster and further than good news.

Keep these factors in mind as we explore three case studies of companies with major reputation management problems and how they handled them.

How Buffer Responded to Crisis

Buffer, the online social media scheduling site, was recently severely hacked.

Buffer became aware of the problem very rapidly and took immediate action to handle the problem. You can see a full account of their actions during the 24 hours immediately following the hack on their blog.

They were quick to inform their customers of the problem and explain what they were doing to fix it before most of their customers were even aware there’d been an attack. Here is just one of the messages they sent via Facebook.


Buffer tells their community on Facebook about their crisis.

Needless to say, if their customers had lost faith in Buffer’s security and reliability, then a major erosion of their customer base would have taken place.


Fans show their support for how Buffer handled this crisis.

Because their response was timely and appropriate, they now have even more loyal customers.

How Fontaine Santé Responded to Crisis

Fontaine Santé Foods Inc. is a Montreal-based North American food company whose hallmark is quality ingredients and preservative-free, ready-to-eat produce.

In December 2011, they detected the possibility of Listeria monocytogenes in their prepackaged salads. The potentially contaminated salads had already been distributed and purchased by many consumers.

Not only did this present a potential social media crisis, but also the possibility of a major lawsuit. Major repercussions could’ve potentially destroyed the brand’s long-lasting credibility and reputation.

Their crisis plan was simple, timely and effective.

Fontaine Santé utilized traditional media and their social media channels to spread the message about the possible contamination and make sure that all consumers were aware of the situation.

The brand posted the following well-written official response on their corporate website.


Fontaine Santé kept their customers informed.

Thanks to their quick action, all potentially contaminated produce was quickly recalled with no reports of illness.

Because Fontaine Santé was open and honest about the possible contamination risk, their loyal customers rallied around to praise and defend the brand.

How J.C. Penney Responded to Crisis

In May 2013, J.C. Penney had what could be described as a tempest in a teapot that received international attention.

The Telegraph declared that J.C. Penney had a problem with its teapot as it was depicted in a huge billboard advertisement on Interstate 405 near Culver City, California. Some people saw the image as a subtle depiction of Hitler.


The offending billboard.

This is obviously a matter of personal perception and the result of an innocent creative mistake. The issue could’ve become a crisis unless J.C. Penney took very prompt action.

Because J.C. Penney’s response was rapid and appropriate, a crisis was averted.

7 Steps to Defend Your Own Reputation

The case studies above provide you with useful examples to refer to as you develop your own reputation management strategy.

Before you begin to build a plan, you need to be sure that you maintain shared standards within your company. Shared standards give you the strongest basis for an effective crisis response strategy.

Your company’s culture should emphasize the policies the company has developed for all aspects of its operations including:

  • Quality standards
  • Customer relations
  • Human relations
  • Safety standards
  • Emergency responses
  • Environmental concerns
  • Privacy standards, etc.

Every member of your team should understand these policies and commit to them to put your company in the best possible state of readiness in the event a crisis develops.


Crisis management in action. Image source: iStockPhoto.

#1: Act Quickly

Although it’s tempting to hold back until you’re sure you understand exactly what’s happened and who’s to blame (as your lawyers might counsel), those impacted by the crisis want answers fast. Better by far that your company provides those answers before anyone else.

#2: Take Charge

The attitude should be that your company will manage the crisis, rather than allowing it to control the company. There are risks associated with both being prompt and being tardy with your responses. Move as fast as possible, rather than waiting for more information to come in before you act.

#3: Handle Reality

It’s important to deal with the real facts. Social media makes it easy for whistle-blowers to reveal the truth as they see it. ‘Fess up to what’s really happening and don’t attempt to maintain a charade that could collapse at any time.

#4: Engage the Nay-sayers

When you follow the previous steps, you can deal directly with any critics you have. Old-style PR often suggested laying low until the heat blew over. Because the Internet gives visibility to critics, it’s much better to deal with criticism as it arises.

#5: Spread the Word

To avoid any misconceptions or incorrect interpretations by others, your company should use all means at its disposal to communicate what has happened and what you’re doing about it. This includes using your website, company blog, social media pages and media releases.

#6: Encourage Dialogue

Any successful company will have defenders among its various stakeholders, including customers. Provide your supporters with an online space where they can express their views on what the company means to them and how they see the company’s response.

By encouraging positive sources of information about your company, you ensure that good opinions can far outweigh any negative information that shows in searches.

#7: Deliver on Your Word

At the heart of any crisis, there’s a real incident acting as a trigger. It’s important that your company ensure there are appropriate responses to that incident, and that outsiders acknowledge your company as handling the situation well.

Over to You

Don’t wait until the threat to your reputation becomes visible. Events in a crisis move quickly online and only by preparing can you successfully defend your company’s reputation.

Use the examples and strategic tips in this article to help you build a plan that prepares you to withstand a crisis.

What do you think? Has your brand had to defend its reputation online? What strategic tactics did you use? What other advice can you offer? Please share your opinions in the comments below.

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  • Barry I appreciate all the helpful advice on how to be proactive when it comes to a social media crisis. I really like when you said, “At the heart of any crisis, there’s a real incident acting as a trigger.”

    You have me thinking how the only purpose of ‘social media crisis management’…is to change feelings. Not the facts, but the way your customer feels.

  • treb072410

    Thanks for sharing the idea.. I really had a great read.. Thanks for sharing…

  • Derek Stein

    Punctuality is priority #1 when it comes to reputation management. Transparency is a close second.

  • AmandahBlackwell


    Thanks for the great advice!

    I wrote blog posts for a reputation management company and stressed the importance of safeguarding your online reputation.

    Brands should monitor their reputation on a regular basis. Even if you don’t suffer a major crisis, you want to be aware of what people are saying about your company. Don’t retaliate if you find something negative. Address the situation and move forward.

  • Erick Fuentes

    great post… direct and complete for this introduction

  • One way to defend your reputation online is to be more transparent to our valued customers. Address to them the problem or issue we’re facing before it become viral and and too large to handle. Thanks for sharing this article Barry. I learned so many things in reading this:)

  • Barry Welford

    Patrick, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The best defence is to have a company culture where everyone ensures the company does the best it can. That way you’re in the strongest position if something that could not have been foreseen goes wrong.

  • Barry Welford

    Amandah, you’ve hit the other important activity which is to be aware of what people are saying about you and be proactive even with the naysayers.

  • These are really good points to remember Barry. There will be instances when we all have to deal with crisis both big and small. We definitely recognize the importance of handling them properly; as you’ve pointed out, they can really hurt your brand, and you will lose customers as a result. Just be HONEST and state the facts in a professional way. Thanks for this!

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  • Barry Welford

    I particularly like your #1, Derek. Time is always the critical element in so much that we do. A very prompt response already gets you some brownie points even if there are other negative factors.

  • Although I’d generally agree on advice tips #6 and #7, I think it is not always the most strategic thing to do with an online crisis; and that is because certain conversations ought to be offline. Delivering a conclusive statement or position on a situation should be clear and simple but once you do that, leave it at that. Do not continue to engage or exhaust the situation. Providing an online space for others to be part of the dialogue may or may not have beneficial consequences. Keep in mind that you are also potentially creating a breeding ground for more online attacks.

  • Great topic, Barry. Always important to study these tactics to proactively prepare for a crisis too! I think an important point of discussion- at least for social media posts that are the crisis- is the question of deleting. I think most of the time, it’s best to leave it be and be honest about the mistake. Other times, it’s OK to delete something insensitive. What’s your take on this type of crisis?

  • Barry Welford

    I must respectfully disagree, Sophie. If online discussion will continue anyway, then it’s better for the company to be part of that discussion rather than merely the object of that discussion. I would make only two exceptions:
    a) if your customers and evangelists will continue the debate in a positive way, then you can leave it to them. You always have the opportunity to re-enter the discussion if needed down the road.
    b) If it is clear that the only dissenters and critics represent a very small percentage of your market place and would be ignored by the majority of your stakeholders, then you too can ignore them.

  • Barry Welford

    Good question, Sarah. If most reasonable people would feel it is right to delete the objectionable content then it’s almost a no-brainer to do so. The important thing is not to appear to be burying a real skeleton from the closet.

  • Dave Bugzy

    Lovely article…I agree with Sophie at some point in time you let your avators/evangelists to take it on. So as to influence other people to believe because defending a situation is expected of the company. But they should always refer to the company’s official position.

  • Kristen Liana Obaid

    How did J.C.Penney respond? (Appreciate it was fast, but how did they approach it?)

  • Barry Welford

    I don’t have too many details, Kristen, but the billboard ad was taken down and they stopped selling the teapot saying it was out-of-stock.

  • Thanks for such helpful advice. It is better to be
    honest and speak out the truth. Customers deserve to know the truth and I feel
    that it helps to develop trust.

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  • Barry Welford

    It’s certainly true that if you choose to cover up the truth then folks will assume you have something to hide. If it’s a big skeleton, then it may be much worse if others dig it up. If it’s a small skeleton, then why not fess up and get brownie points for being human.

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  • Yeah,
    that’s right Barry.

  • @barrywelford:disqus Very well said. I fully agree with your two exceptions. Perhaps, I was thinking too general. It is generally not a good idea to exhaust the situation online because I strongly believe in only saying what has to be said and focus on protecting confidential info (for the customer and the brand) if those conversations involve private matters. It’s just a matter of respect. For example, when two people are caught in a public argument, it is best to acknowledge that a conversation needs to happen to resolve issues and make both parties happy. However, this conversation ought to take place behind closed doors as a matter of respect. However, I do fully agree that there is always the option to re-enter conversations online.

    Thanks for pointing that out, Barry!

  • Mengdie Pan

    Good to know How J.C. Penney Responded to Crisis. Recently,
    photo tagging has been available on Twitter because it can help one’s photos more
    social and influential. I think an organization will consider this improvement
    of mobile feature as a challenging revolution mingled hope and fear. The
    perfect thing is after reading your blog, I know more about how to react when
    we are in crisis circumstance. Personally, I think monitoring the Twitter in
    real-time is critical for assembling crisis communication team as soon as
    possible, and there is no doubt that everyone has to be careful and
    well-prepared when we use social media.