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Social Media Crisis Management: Turning Challenges into Opportunities

SOS! Your brand is dealing with a social media crisis. What can you do to calm down the chaos and turn things around before getting canceled? A social media crisis is more than just a random negative comment or anonymous troll, it’s a growing movement of disdain and distrust of your brand. No matter how carefully you plan your social media, crises can happen to the best of us—and they move quickly. Brands are run by human beings and we inevitably make mistakes and fall prey to ever-evolving cultural context and social sentiment. But if there’s no way to prevent social media crises, what can brands do to mitigate them? The key is to be prepared with an action plan for your organization. Let’s break it down…

What is a social media crisis?

A social media crisis occurs when online activity causes damage to your brand’s reputation. Again, these are more than just the occasional critical comment or unhappy customer DM (which you should never ignore!). These are errors that have the potential to really hurt your business. Shared sentiment can spread like wildfire over social media (and, as you know, a post can go viral for bad reasons as well as good ones). Therefore, it’s important to act FAST!

What causes a social media crisis?

Many things can spark social media crises. Some are in your direct control…and some are not. Either way, there are steps you and your company can take to reduce the risk of the following:

  • Insensitive or offensive posts - Memes, comments, and posts can come off as inappropriate or out-of-touch even if they’re well-intended. It’s always a good idea to have a second set of eyes on social media content prior to posting, especially if it involves humor, sarcasm, or a sensitive topic.

  • Bad customer service - Your employees are the face of your brand. Unhelpful or rude customer service can cause a customer to take their frustration to social media and make a personal incident a much more public issue.

  • Employee behavior - What your employees say and do online can also come back to reflect poorly on your company. While everyone is entitled to their own online autonomy, it’s important to set rules in place to establish online conduct (especially in relation to your brand).

  • Poor quality - In addition to poor customer service, poor quality products and services may also warrant negative reviews on social media sites. And nowadays, people turn to social media for product research and reviews over search engines like Google.

  • Automatic posts - Social media management apps are amazing because they allow you to schedule posts in advance. However, this can get you into trouble if a crisis arises (either about your brand or some other newsworthy event). At the first sign of a crisis, pause all automatic posts so that your brand doesn’t come off as ignorant of what’s going on.

3 Ways to Prep for a Social Media Crisis

1. Have a social media policy in place.

This should cover departmental responsibilities, delineate who has access to your company’s social media accounts, and explain staff expectations when it comes to using social media (i.e. if it’s allowed during work hours, if they can mention the company or show your office in social media, confidentiality agreements, etc.).

2. Maintain online security.

To control who has access to your social media accounts (and prevent hacking), enable two-factor authentication for logging in, change passwords every three months, and determine what devices can access your accounts. Remember that, when setting up accounts, back-up emails (should you forget your password) should never be linked to an individual employee or email address outside of your organization that you might not be able to access.

3. Create a communication plan.

Should a crisis occur, it’s important to determine who is going to do what in order to avoid chaos and confusion. Evaluate your pre-approval process for social media posts (including the chain-of-command, brand voice guidelines, etc.).

How should your brand handle a social media crisis?

Be responsive.

It’s always important to respond quickly on social media, but it’s especially true in times of crisis (i.e. within 24 hours max). This could mean removing a post, responding to a comment (or slew of comments), and/or making a public statement or apology. Remember that it's never a good idea to delete (or restrict) comments or to block users unless their content is racist or offensive. Hiding a critical comment simply brushes the issue under the rug (and admits more guilt).

Practice social listening.

This is something your brand should do all the time, but especially during a crisis when your brand’s name might be trending for negative reasons. Social listening means paying attention to how your brand’s name (and associated terms) are being used in online conversations. You can follow specific hashtags (#), mentions (@), and Google keywords to make sure you’re aware of when your name pops up. Seeing how people are talking about your brand on social media can help you better understand the best actions to take to address the crisis at hand.

Be kind and authentic.

It can be easy to get defensive in times of high stress, but it’s best to take a beat and respond with empathy and understanding. “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and you can rebuild customer relationships more easily with compassion than with inconsideration or hostility.

Bottom line, a crisis might happen. The best thing you can do is be prepared to act quickly and authentically. Instead of drowning in a crisis, step up to the opportunity to show your customers the real you…be honest, be vulnerable, and keep striving to do better.

If you need help strategizing your crisis management plan, reach out to Media À La Carte for a free discovery consultation. Our Custom Audit & Strategy service can prep your crisis management plan for you.

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