Guest post by Chris Norton.
A social media crisis is like a wildfire: one mistake can quickly get out of control. When your business commits a critical error on social media, you risk losing not just followers, but also current and prospective future customers.
The dynamics of a social media crisis are similar to social proof. If people read positive news about your business, they are more likely to transact with you. On the other hand, if your social media reputation is damaged, consumers may feel they have a social and ethical responsibility to avoid your brand.
Repairing the damage from a social media crisis is not as simple as deleting the offending post or tweet. You need a strategy for dealing with criticism on social media. Here are six steps that will help your brand recover from a social media crisis.
1. Create a social media policy.
A social media policy serves two functions – 1) preventing a social media crisis (preferably) and 2) managing a social media crisis (if it fails at function #1). If your company maintains a social media presence, you should have a policy for using and navigating this channel. That will help protect your brand image and preserve your corporate reputation.
Preventing a Crisis through a Social Media Policy
Your social media policy serves as the manual for your customer-facing employees, marketing staff, and sales team. This policy should tell your employees the following:
- Brand guidelines: Not everything is fit for posting. Your social media activity should represent your brand and act within your brand personality.
- Copyright guidelines: If you’re using images from external sources, always check if the image can be used and credit the original owner if necessary. Failing to comply with copyright laws will tarnish your reputation. The content creator might even sue you.
- Confidentiality guidelines: These govern the use of company and user data. You wouldn’t want to leak the email addresses of all your customers, and you don’t want the blueprints for your upcoming products to get exposed on social media, either.
- Regulatory guidelines: Businesses in regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare, and any publicly traded company, have restrictions regarding what type of information they can publicly share, and when.
These four fundamental principles will help you determine what you can post on social media. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never encounter issues on social networks. Here’s how to handle a social media crisis.
Managing a Crisis through a Social Media Policy
Your team should know what to do when a social media crisis arises. The first step in managing a PR crisis is to pause all scheduled postings. The second step is to implement your social crisis communications plan.
If you don’t already have one, see below. A PR crisis management firm can help you create one if you need external support.
Having a detailed and comprehensive guide for your team is already half the job. But there are other actions you should take to protect your brand image on social media.
2. Take responsibility.
The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have a problem—and social media mistakes are no exception. By owning up to your responsibility, you open a dialogue with the people who were offended by your content.
There are no shortcuts for this step. Social media users can tell when you’re trying to sweep the issue under the rug instead of resolving it. Rather than pretending that the crisis isn’t happening, you need to acknowledge it, internally and externally.
For instance, beauty brand Glossier was in hot water in 2020 because of an Instagram account that recounted employees’ experiences with racism and transphobia in its stores. As a response, Glossier’s social media team acknowledged the issue and apologized to its employees:
If you’re responsible and accountable, you’ll manage the social media crisis much easier and give your brand a human face. You’ll be building a more responsible brand image simply by being upfront with everyone concerned.
3. Draft a crisis communication plan.
You may have easily sanctioned that one manager that acted racially towards customers, but social media stories have a lasting impact that may take time to fix, especially on Twitter. Nonetheless, social media can still remedy these issues.
Here’s a sincere statement flow you can use:
- Acknowledge the problem. Take responsibility for the snafu that ensued.
- This should immediately follow after the acknowledgment of the issue.
- State the actions you’ve done to address the problem. This will put everyone concerned at ease. If the solution is still an ongoing process, let your audience know if there’s no solution yet.
- Let your audience know your company’s capacity to solve the problem.
- Remind your audience what your company stands for and assure them that you will not let the incident occur again.
You can share a statement through your social channels, alongside making a formal statement if needed. Once the crisis is past, you can resume your scheduled postings. However, you will now need to check if each post is appropriate in the context of the crisis.
There are some changes you’d want to implement along with this communication plan:
- Update your automated responses or chatbots. Your customers will likely be flooding your social media accounts’ messaging channels looking for answers.
- Use email software to send updates to stakeholders about the issue. There are plenty of tools available to help you manage these campaigns.
- Create a page on your website explicitly addressing this issue and add a link to this page on your homepage.
A successful communication plan will help everyone move beyond the issue at hand. In addition, the communication plan communicates your sincerity and genuineness in solving the issue.
4. Monitor what is being said about your brand.
People will be talking about you – and part of your job as a social media manager is to monitor what people say about your brand. There are tools and software that allow you to monitor mentions of your brand on social media ethically.
Here’s how you can monitor what is being said about your brand.
- Use hashtag monitoring tools to search for tags such as #cancel*brandname* or #boycott*brandname*. A valuable tool to track this would be Brand24 or Hashtagify.
- Check what blogs and articles are saying about your brand. A brand monitoring tool like BrandMentions digs into every corner of the Internet for mentions your brand.
- You can do Google searches on your brand and see if there are blogs that publish content against your company.
Once you know what people are saying about you, you can gather all these statements and publicly address them through a press conference or video statement. Journalists will pounce on the developing story and be on top of your official response.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with a social media crisis is that your response should be proportional to the possible scope and impact of the problem. A muted response to a significant concern will make your customers and stakeholders think you’re not taking the issue seriously. On the other hand, mounting a full-force offensive on a minor issue might make people think there’s more to the crisis than meets the eye.
5. Communicate with your team.
When a social media crisis needs to be averted, your entire team needs to have a single response. We mean your entire team—not just your customer-facing staff.
When word breaks out about your crisis, employees’ friends and families will ask your employees instead of reading your PR statement, so you need to ensure everyone knows how they are supposed to respond.
Here’s how you can get everyone aligned with a single response.
- Hold meetings with your employees: Discuss the problem and the appropriate response everyone should be aligned with.
- Put some weight on your social media managers: Communicate the necessary communication plans and proper responses to concerned customer queries.
- Decentralize the social media crisis communication plan for managers. You shouldn’t be the only one who knows how to traverse rocky terrain.
A single aligned response is vital because the public will think you’re trying to hide something when you give them conflicting information. As a result, you’ll inflict even more damage on your company’s reputation. Communicating clearly with your team will prevent this from happening.
6. Keep your social media accounts secure.
You wouldn’t want to give every social media manager the highest admin privileges to all of your social media accounts. If certain functions, such as changing social media settings and adding new admins, isn’t part of your employees’ job descriptions, then don’t let them use those functions.
That is critical because when employees leave the company, you don’t want them to access all those special privileges you’ve entrusted them with. Here are the steps you can take to make your social media account more secure:
- Create a Facebook Business Account (Now called Meta Business Account). This hub will allow your employees to post on your company’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.
- Go to Meta Business Account Settings and select the individual functions and privileges you’ll give to specific employees.
- Only entrust Super Admin privileges to those who need them, such as your senior social media managers or community managers.
- Regularly update your business Twitter account password. You may also update it whenever a social media manager leaves the company or moves to another role.
- Set up two-factor authentication for your social media accounts.
Keeping your social media access secure will ensure that you have total control over the content you post. It also means that the tone and voice of your content will remain consistent despite staff turnover.
Create a social media policy for your social media managers and marketing team to follow to prevent social media crises from happening. Keep your social media accounts secure as a preventive measure as well.
If a social media crisis does happen, take responsibility. Draft a communication plan to ease tension among the general public. Monitor what is being said by the public about your brand, then offer a single aligned response.
Take these steps and you’ll protect and strengthen your brand’s image on social media.
Chris Norton, Founder of insight-led PR agency Prohibition, blogger at Social Media Training, former University lecturer, author of “Share This Too” and listed in the UK’s top 10 PR and social media bloggers.