social media how toWhen most people think about the advantages of using social media for business, they immediately think of the marketing benefits.

However, many businesses are starting to use social media as a tool for listening and providing customer service.

When a crisis or emergency erupts, the power of social media can be an amazing tool for businesses.  A crisis can include anything from a simple website outage to negative publicity.  This article will reveal how to use social media during a crisis and provide many examples you can model.

Why Your Reputation in Social Media Is Important

Why should a company be concerned about social media’s influence on their image?  The answer is simple: Social media allows consumer opinions to spread far and wide quickly.  Word of mouth and social search are two powerful reasons to manage your social media reputation.

Word of mouth

Imagine you’re a restaurant owner, and you recognize a customer walking into your establishment as someone who has a wide influence in your community, such as a newspaper writer.  You would want him to have the best experience possible so if he chooses to write about your restaurant, those who read the review would be impressed and possibly come in to have a wonderful experience as well.

Social media allows anyone to be a major influence in the community.  Any customer who walks through your door could possibly have hundreds or even thousands of followers in your region, or if not, his friends might.  Word of mouth marketing can reach a worldwide audience through social media; thus, one bad experience could be retold to the masses.

Social search

Google’s recent implementation of social media in their search results brings real-time conversation to the front page.  Twitter users in particular are fond of hashtags, and just adding a hashtag in front of a search for a name brand can reveal what is currently being talked about in relation to that brand.

Take Toyota for instance.  Adding the hashtag in front of the name reveals the following in the first page of search results.

Now, let’s look at what happens if you do the same for Ford.

You can see why social search could be very influential on a searcher’s perception of a brand.

Managing a Crisis Through Social Media

Now that you can see why social media is important to a company’s reputation, let’s look at how large and small businesses have used the following social networks to respond to their customers.


Although Twitter communications happen in 140 character updates, these tweets are easily searchable by Google, Twitter, and the many Twitter applications available.  Businesses can be followed on Twitter by anyone – customers, potential customers, and competitors.

Therefore, it is extremely important that companies monitor Twitter mentions of their brands, products, and services in order to respond swiftly to any negative circumstances.   Best-practice examples of social media response through Twitter include:


By now, everyone has heard about the major recalls by Toyota due to defective “sticky” gas pedals in many of their vehicle models.  Toyota has been monitoring and responding to their customers’ questions on the recall via Twitter.


Codero, a web hosting company, experienced a power outage that affected their servers, leaving their clients’ websites down. Codero responded directly to their clients through via Twitter throughout the next several days.  Although there were many complaints about websites being down, there were positive referrals to their followers by clients who were satisfied by the customer service they received.


YouTube is the most popular video search engine, and no doubt the best (and fastest) way to send out a public announcement when your company needs to make a statement about an ongoing situation.


Lexus Group President and General Manager Mike Templin recorded a personal message on YouTube for their customers (see below) on the LexusVehicles channel, assuring them that Lexus is dedicated to building high-quality vehicles that surpass expectations and, in response to Consumer Reports’ review of the rollover risk of the GX 460 SUV, are voluntarily recalling this model to upgrade and improve the vehicle’s stability system.


Codero Chief Operating Officer Ryan Elledge uploaded a video on CoderoTV the morning of their power outage, giving a preliminary explanation of the situation (see below).

One important thing to note when using YouTube for crisis management announcements is that unless you set your options to moderate comments, YouTube users can add comments to videos that are available for public consumption as well.

In both of the above examples, the company has an opportunity to include positive responses (when possible) to any negative comments made on their videos.


If your company has a Facebook fan page, it will be another social media outlet to focus on supplying excellent customer response.  Depending on your page settings, fans can post comments to your page which be seen by fans and non-fans alike, so it is important to monitor your Facebook page and update it as needed with the latest news and responses to customer comments.


Toyota’s Facebook page, having almost 100,000 fans, is constantly updated by both Toyota and fans with both praise and complaints alike.

Because of the volume of comments, Toyota does not seem to comment on each status, but that doesn’t mean they’re not responding at all – they simply may be making more comprehensive responses behind the scenes via private emails to the fans.  It’s good to see the public responses, assuring fans that someone is actively getting into the discussions, rather than just posting news updates.


Codero’s Facebook page did not receive as many responses from clients affected by the power outage as their Twitter accounts; however, they not only made an update directly on Facebook about the outage, but also directed customers to watch real-time discussion of the situation on their Twitter accounts and linked to blog posts which contained the YouTube video update.

They also updated their fan page to update customers to assure them that they were working on a comprehensive analysis of what went wrong and ways they would prevent such an outage from affecting their customers in the future.

Best Practices

So what are some best practices you can take away from these examples?

  • Social media is public.  Your fans and followers have the right to make negative comments – it’s your company’s job to turn those negative comments around and defend yourself to change it from a negative to a positive situation.
  • Monitor your business on social media and respond to tweets, mentions, and comments on your company’s profiles in a timely manner.  Social media is real-time, so the faster you respond, the better your customer service will look.
  • If possible, suggest that customers contact you privately to send their email address or phone number for more in-depth discussion.
  • On Twitter, you must follow the customer so she can direct message you.
  • On Facebook fan pages, you must share a personal profile the customer can send a message to.
  • On YouTube, customers can visit your company’s channel and send a message.
  • Remember that aside from private messaging, anyone can read conversations between you and your customer.  If you provide thorough, great customer service, it can go a long way in impressing your customers, increasing their likelihood of giving you positive referrals.  And for other followers who are watching the situation unfold, it could be a great first impression that leads to a potential customer.

Your Experiences With Business Use of Social Media for Crisis Management

Do you own a business and have you used social media to respond to customers in times of crisis or in the face of negative publicity?  Or are you a customer who has had a positive or negative customer service experience from a business on social media? Please share your thoughts and best practices in the comment box below.

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  • Very good tactical advice and guidance. Of course, there’s more of a goal-setting, strategic and infrastructure overlay that organizations require in order to be ready to engage through those tactics. I cover this at length in a PRSA Strategist article, which can be found in a link within the shortened summary on this blog post:

    I hope that helps.


  • That’s true… your company does have to have a good social media management structure in place before being able to hand this kind of a situation. But even if they don’t, depending on the size of the company, it shouldn’t be too hard to get one person to keep an eye on any mentions of the company and send a reply to people commenting about a particular situation.

    When GoDaddy was having the repeated WordPress hacks, they were replying to people who were posting about it letting them know they were working on it. Even though the information they sent was not that helpful for some cases, it was good to know they were monitoring the conversation and trying to respond to most.

  • Ted Bauer

    Anyone @BP read this yet?

  • Excellent insights and great examples of how to use Social Media effectively and professionally!

  • Wonderful article….sheer perfection…great way to leverage SM for something other than brand advancement …yuck

  • Great article, Kristi….the first thing that immediately came to mind when I started reading the post was the United Breaks Guitars video.

    SocialOomph’s free service allows for keyword monitoring (also allows for hashtags) and those emails can be sent every day or every 12 hours (for those of us who like to have results handed to us). I’m not sure if they max out at a certain number or not but they are a good option, at least.

  • Yes… as you rightly mentioned, negative publicity can grow to a level of company wide crisis, and social media can further fuel this. This situation may also extend to a level of creating long or short term impact on the shareholder value of the business too. I just tried to cover this in my blog –

  • Thanks. Yes, I think brands that go beyond just advertising will have the most success with social media. I don’t think many of them realize how much of a confidence boost their customers (or potential customers) have when a company responds to them and really listens, instead of always blasting off ads.

  • Thanks! I like to go with HootSuite for Twitter monitoring. I can setup searches for when particular posts / keywords are mentioned and respond to them as soon as I check it. SocialOomph and Social Mention are also great tools for having the mentions emailed to you as well.

  • Nice Kristi,

    I like the Rep Management portion. Good stuff!

  • Great discussion, Kristi! What do you tell a client, however, who refuses to engage with social media–just wants to use it to put out content for SEO purposes? Regularly posting positive content can push down older bad press in search engines, but is it worth using social media for that alone, or will transparency come back to bite them?

  • It just depends on the client I guess. If all they want is links back and they understand that this won’t garner them any actual social media fans, there’s not much you can say. I have run into those types before.

    But even for reputation management usage of social media, the profiles that they want to rank higher have to be active, so in that sense they would need to be active, even if it is auto-feeding some related news updates through their Twitter stream and Facebook updates with services like TwitterFeed.

    I think the only way to convince them why they need to use social media the right way is to find someone in their industry and show them how it’s working for them. You probably won’t be able to find actual ROI / profit that the business gains from social media, but maybe you can find highlights of responses from followers / fans on their profiles that are positive, like thanks to the blog post you shared on Twitter, I’m going to come by your store to buy ____.

  • This is an excellent piece for anyone in PR, crisis comms and my area – not-for-profits. I recently posted this blog on why Australian not-for-profits / non-government organisation Chief Executives need to get on Twitter – for precisely the reason you’re talking about. Your thoughts are reasonable, logical and underline that CEOs need to take social media seriously – now! Cheers – Jeremy – Melbourne, Australia

  • I like the idea having a person keeping an eye on the mentions. It’s the reply part that can get very tricky — quickly! — if there’s not a multi-disciplanary thought process that goes into that reply. We’ve seen several examples of companies with very good issues management processes, and very good social media outreach, but disconnected between those two areas of expertise. That’s when “medium level” situations get enflamed into enormous crises.

    Good stuff, Kristi.

  • In crisis management, there’s the crisis and then there’s the response to the crisis. These are excellent examples of how companies can incorporate social media as a part of their crisis PR strategy. It takes courage for companies to do this, but it’s incredibly powerful and can turn a bad situation into a real opportunity to demonstrate goodwill. I believe someday future pr/marketing/social media textbooks will use the case of BP and the oil disaster in the Gulf as an example of how to completely bungle this strategy

  • Great article like always Kristi,I have just received great support from Frank Eliason, a Senior Director at Comcast National Customer Service on Twitter after publishing a blog post about my internet connection problem, it seems that Frank could do what others couldn’t and the amazing thing is I got this great support on Twitter through my cell phone!…I hope that we see more like this in the future as Social Media can really solve problems!

  • I totally agree with the general insight of the article. Nowadays there is no room for doubt when it comes to the importance of a good and respected reputation on the social media sites for businesses. In my opinion this is basic to achieve success in the business activity and its importance should never be neglected, especially from a manager’s point of view. Good article.

  • Hey Kristi – This is great information for businesses of all sizes. An excellent local biz monitoring tool is Yelp. Although it’s not free for businesses, it’s one of the most widely used social review sites in existence, and it’s recent integration with Facebook makes the viral nature of it even more powerful. It’s like Foursquare met the Yellow Pages. I know of a couple local small businesses who handle Yelp really well, interacting with reviews and taking the time to really handle the “small” crises (not quite on the level of Toyota or BP, but bad publicity isn’t good for a small business).

    Cheers, Kristi!

  • Yes, it does take a bit of courage because the company, at some point, will have to directly or indirectly admit their fault in the situation at hand. But I think that on a whole, their customers, investors, and other spectators of the crisis will respect them more in the end than the company that pretends nothing is wrong or that they are doing all they can when, in fact, they are not.

  • That’s a great example of a company keeping an eye on discussion of their brand and responding to them in a positive way that brings you and others who have witnessed the events more confidence in their service.

  • I think it’s sad when I see companies on Yelp that have a bad review or two and no reaction from the company themselves. If you have to admit fault, just admit it, but don’t leave the review just hanging out there with no response.

    If I read a review where they said they bought something and it did not do what it was advertised to do, I would be wary of the company. But if the company reacted with the fact that it was a faulty product and the customer was refunded immediately, then I would feel that at maybe the product wasn’t good for this reviewer, but could work for me. And if it didn’t, I could rest assured that I’d get a proper refund.

  • Hi Kristi, thanks for a good and informative blog post. It’s time for businesses to understand that Social Media is not something to ignore in a time of crisis.

    Take BP for eg: while it worked fast to talk to the press, holding a press conference 1 day after the oil spill started, it ignored social media and did not start posting information on the situation or responding to comments until 7 days after the incident, which is months in social media time!

    One of my colleagues wrote a blog post on Crisis Comms as well, taking the Orlando SeaWorld, Tiger Woods and David Letterman as examples of how they handled their crisis situations. Since it feels relevant to this post, here’s the link:


  • Great post! I think the biggest strength of Twitter is it becomes a platform where companies can spy on their consumer’s conversations about their product. But I don’t think it should end in
    Twitter or Facebook. Yahoo answers, Wiki answers, etc. have been around much longer. And if you’re looking for brand new customers, they usually run to Google or yahoo and wiki answers for information about certain products. I’m mentioning this, because I haven’t seen any blog mention them before. It’s always all about Twitter and Facebook. But you can also find positive and negative comments there. I’m just saying to broaden the spectrum when in comes to spying on your customers.
    And you’re absolutely right about your restaurant example. Each and everyone of your customer now has the power to make or break you. Just one negative review from them published online can affect you and your reputation.

  • Great post, Kristi! It’s amazing how much quicker crisis situations can spread with some of the social tools that we have at our fingertips (it’s also very *scary* for brands!) What baffles me is how some brands think that by not being in Social Media, they’re avoiding any potential crisis, but as Lisa Barone said in a post recently, this just makes you mute, not invisible!

    Using some sort of paid monitoring tool can also really help in these crisis situations, as it could potentially bring issues to your attention that you can hopefully take care of before it really takes off and becomes a problem. The data they provide can also help you track just how well your Crisis Management strategy is working in reversing negative sentiment.

    Great stuff!

    Community Manager | BuzzMgr

  • Cathy Rodgers

    An organization that I think does a good job using Social Media for urgent communications is the Democrtic National Convention.

    I get great updates/information from President Obama’s Organizing for America group on a regular basis and always when there is a crisis going on, like the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • I completely agree but I also believe that there is massive scope for Social media to be used pre-emptively before a crisis either in the case of or in a commercial sense internally though twitter etc.

  • Great Post. Never even thought about using it social media in this way. Excellent.

  • Gilbert L

    Another tool to monitor your reputation is Kurrently at – a real-time search engine for Facebook and Twitter.

  • Hi Kristi,

    I’ve recently wrote an ebook on Social Media Crisis Management looking at how BP, Ford and Nestle uses social media for their crisis. The social media tools these companies use are mainly Facebook and Twitter. Thought it will be relevant to share it here! Please check out for the ebook. 🙂


  • Kellie

    Hi Kristi, I have a question regarding negative comments on Twitter. If your company is receiving negative comments that containing profane language and are simply just a ‘you suck’ or ‘i hate you’ type post. What is the best way to respond to something like that. And since this is their tweet that we have found what is the appropriate way of approaching that.

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  • nishant

    Amazing use of the word power, and the best explanation about social media ever i have read on the internet.

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