social media how toHave you ever had to deal with a social media crisis?

Do you have a crisis plan?

In the age of social media, even the slightest predicament can quickly gain momentum and get out of control. If you are prepared, it’s much easier to manage your company’s reputation and come through a crisis unharmed.

In this article I’ll share four tips on how to effectively deal with a social media crisis.

What’s a Social Media Crisis?

If there’s a high volume of incoming social media messages on one particular topic, chances are you have a social media crisis on your hands.

handle a social media crisis

Discover how to handle a social media crisis.

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Two things can cause a social media crisis. First, external factors such as a natural disaster, human tragedy or something related to your industry can cause people to reach out to your social media accounts. Second, a social media crisis can be initiated on the platform itself due to an insensitive tweet or inappropriate picture, for example. In either case the result is that your social media accounts explode.

Waiting for a social media crisis to blow over is never an option. If you ignore it, it will likely get worse. Social media can be an asset in a crisis when used correctly, not an extra problem.

Here’s what you need to do to come out on the other side of a crisis with your company’s reputation intact.

#1: Have a Plan in Place

A social media crisis consumes both time and money. When you’re in crisis mode, you feel like you’re in over your head.

Map out what you would need to respond to a social media crisis ahead of time. Come up with a variety of scenarios, so you can take control of any situation when the time comes.

crisis plan shutterstock 248821750

Have a plan in place. Image: Shutterstock.

Additionally, create a social media committee that involves people from the entire company and meets on a regular basis (weekly or monthly depending on how big your business is). These people need to know the ins and outs of the company, understand which strategies to use when a crisis hits and have the right skills to communicate with customers.

#2: Create a Crisis Center

Create a crisis center to direct customers and stakeholders to one source that has relevant, useful links with up-to-date information.

In 2014, General Motors dealt with a major tragedy that caused a lot of customers to reach out to their social media accounts. People died in car crashes resulting from faulty ignition switches, which prevented airbags from inflating. In the months to come, General Motors set up a major recall action.

General Motors created a special, stand-alone website that served as a hub of information. It contained FAQs about the recall, a step-by-step explanation of the problems and advice on where and how to get help.

general motors crisis site

To deal with your crisis, create a stand-alone website with useful FAQs and extra information.

A crisis center helps a business provide more context about any situation to the people involved. It will also lighten the load on your social media channels.

#3: Monitor the Crisis

To effectively handle a social media crisis, whether it’s caused by external or internal factors, you need to monitor how it develops. Plus, you need to do this in such a way that the volume of social media messages doesn’t overwhelm you.

Use a social media monitoring tool or simply keep Twitter tabs open that have your notifications, as well as a search on the relevant hashtag. Also, label the conversations that are coming in via email to keep track of all social media messages that still need a reply.

sabra recall tweets

Sabra responded to inquiries when and where they occurred.

Post relevant updates via your social channels and respond directly to customers. When you communicate information about a crisis to your audience, craft a rapid public response. You want to update anyone and everyone, so no one is left in the dark.

A social media crisis never seems to reach an end. Continue monitoring the events and relevant notifications after a crisis.

#4: Own Your Mistakes

First and foremost, when a social media crisis is caused internally, take full responsibility for the issue, even if you’re not the one to blame.

Put together a well thought-out public statement, and share it first on the original platform where the problem started. For example, if a crisis was first initiated on Twitter, launch a statement there first.

The speed of a reply is everything.

When faced with a social media crisis, make sure you send out your first statement or brand apology into the world within minutes. To make the statement more effective, have a reputable source within your company, such as the head of social media, brand manager, etc., speak on behalf of your brand.

kitchenaidusa crisis tweet

When a crisis is a result of an internal error, take immediate action. Issue a public statement to apologize.

That was exactly the case for KitchenAid in 2012, when a staff member accidentally tweeted an insensitive comment about President Obama’s grandmother from the brand’s account.

Just a couple of minutes later, the renowned brand issued a public Twitter statement coming from the head of the KitchenAid brand, Cynthia Soledad, apologizing for the mistake and pointing out that the person who was responsible for the tweet won’t be tweeting for the company anymore.

When issuing a statement, show compassion and your full commitment to the issue. Assure customers that they’re your first priority. Don’t be defensive, don’t justify your actions and most importantly, don’t hide from criticism.


With social media, crises can easily spread, damaging your brand’s reputation within minutes or even seconds. If you want to regain the trust of your customers, you’ll need to step up your game. Communicate proactively, take matters into your own hands and never be unprepared for a social media crisis.

What do you think? Have you ever had to deal with a crisis on social media? What tools did you use to monitor it? How did you handle it? Share your thoughts and experience in the comments section below.

Crisis plan photo from Shutterstock.
how to handle a social media crisis

Tips for handling a social media crisis.

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  • Bikash Burnwal

    I am a great fan of Social media examiner as it has guided me to work more efficiently and become an expert. I have never faced such a situation ever in my career but I know if I do, I will definitely follow the valuable tips shared by you Sofie.

  • Sofie De Beule @Engagor

    Hi Bikash! Thank you for your positive feedback. Indeed, handling a social media crisis can be a tough nut to crack, fortunately, we indeed have some interesting business examples we can draw inspiration from. Glad this could be of use!

  • Same here, I’m new to Sociamediaexaminer though but I have learned a lot.

  • Hi Sofie

    Great read. Articles like these are really recommended to business. Social media plays a big part in a brand’s development. If a crisis comes, it’s important that you don’t buckle under the pressure. The points you made are really helpful. Cheers! 🙂

  • Noisy Crayons

    Useful for us here in Asia too! Thanks!

  • Mabia Barros

    As a marketer, I always recommended my clients to build and follow a crisis guidelines that I always do when making a social media management proposal. Problem is not many of them were humble enough to agree on apologize and assume that made a mistake. Often their policy was to defend themselves and/or ignore the criticism. Or even to shout and promise to sue in case of fake news or trolls. Not the best way of handling crisis, specially on social networks were words spreads like fire. I’ve been working with brands and companies for some time and only once I saw one apologize for service issues or infrastructure issues to its customers. And I was thrilled when that happened lol. It is weird but many don’t count social media crisis as real ones or see the impact on their brands images.
    Sometimes it really doesn’t. A Brazilian shoes brand was criticized online because of their new line and campaign which used real fur and crocodile leather. They answered the questions on the wrong way, tried to defend themselves but at the same time saw an increase in sales of 58% as I recall. The people complaining on their social media wasn’t their buyers personas and, apparently, it just helped them publicized more their campaign. Go figures.

  • Sofie De Beule @Engagor

    Hi Dave! Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog post. Really glad you like it! You’re touching on some very relevant points here: quick decision-making is indeed an integral part of social media crisis management. Although brands might be excellent at handling questions and complaints on a daily basis. When a social media crisis occurs, that’s where the real challenge lies to swiftly handle the volume and ensure smooth social media replies. That’s why I believe this blog post can be of great use and serves as an important reminder for brands to create a social media crisis plan.

  • Sofie De Beule @Engagor

    Hi! Thanks a lot for your great feedback and for taking the time to comment on this article.

  • Sofie De Beule @Engagor

    Hi Mabia! Thanks a lot for sharing your personal experiences as a social media specialist and sharing the example of the Brazilian shoe brand. In the case of many brands, they indeed need to change their mindset on how to handle a social media crisis. Just like I touched upon in this article, they need to OWN their mistakes. Ignoring criticism or defending themselves without clear insights in the situation will cause more damage than harm. A sincere apology can mean so much to your customer. Greetings from Belgium!

  • Diana Steinberg

    In addition to the tips listed in the article about how to handle a social media crisis, another important suggestion is not to forget about Pinterest. Consider the manner in
    which it can be used to spread messages in a visual fashion. While Pinterest
    should not be the only source of disseminating information during an emergency
    situation, it can be an effective way to quickly share visuals about the crisis
    at hand.

  • Liam Walters

    Someone should have shown this to Branded Cosmetics yesterday.

  • Unfortunately, most people don’t really love reading articles like this, thinking they’ll bring themselves bad luck, but remember that you have to be prepared for everything!

  • Rian Gtohish

    Thank you for these tips. This is a really good jumping off point for building a social media strategy, and one I’d not thought of. Very helpful! 🙂

  • My business manages social media and we deal with these situations, frequently; thankfully not as extreme, in most cases, but the Volkswagon crisis has touched one of my clients. We are uber prepared to deal with it, should the commentary really become negative and launch us into crisis mode. It’s always best to be prepared in advance so that you can implement your strategies from the get-go and not play catch up in the middle of a crisis. You also have to be dynamic, as these types of situations change, and you have to address those changes as they arise. Social listening tools play a large part in our ability to detect and resolve issues before they become a major crisis.