Social media crisis communication: strategy, examples and resolution

Jash Unadkat

July 25, 20236 min read

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In today's hyperconnected world, social media has established itself as a formidable asset in crisis management for brands, big and small. 

During a crisis, a brand's stakeholders need to be kept in the loop and reassured. Clear and consistent communication helps manage expectations, address concerns and retain stakeholder trust in the brand. 

However, handling a crisis without hitting the panic button is easier said than done. A crisis-like situation is often accompanied by a massive influx of support inquiries, most of them from irate customers. 

While providing a timely response may still be challenging, implementing a well-structured crisis communication plan can prove instrumental in appeasing your stakeholders when your products or services fall short of their expectations. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore ways in which social media can be leveraged as a successful crisis management tool. 

But first, let's start by answering a fundamental question. 

Table of Contents

What is social media crisis communication? 

Social media crisis communication refers to the act of using social media platforms such as Facebook, X, formerly Twitter or Instagram to effectively handle and respond to difficult situations or emergencies. Its purpose is to share information promptly, address real-time concerns and manage the reputation of individuals, organizations or brands during a crisis. 

The primary goal of social media crisis communication is to provide accurate information swiftly, address people's worries and ensure that they trust and comprehend the unfolding events. 

However, it is vital to bear in mind that the rapid dissemination of information can also pose a drawback. There is a risk of spreading misleading information or eliciting reactions that may portray your brand as insensitive or foolish.  
 
According to PwC's global crisis survey, 73% of global companies admitted that a crisis negatively impacted their business.  

Naturally, having a well-planned crisis communication strategy in place becomes essential as it facilitates tackling critical scenarios with effective communication. 

Developing a social media crisis communication strategy ahead of time enables you to prepare calmly and thoughtfully. This approach positions you to think rationally about using your social media platforms effectively for positive outcomes. 

The role of social media in crisis communication 

Social media plays a vital role in crisis management as it offers a platform for real-time communication, information sharing and public engagement. Moreover, it enables organizations, individuals and authorities to quickly share accurate information, address concerns and provide updates during a crisis. 

Below are some key roles that social media plays in crisis communication.  

Quick information delivery 

In times of crisis, it's crucial to share accurate information promptly. Social media enables organizations, authorities and individuals to rapidly disseminate updates, announcements, and safety measures to a large audience. 

Active listening and resolving issues 

Social media serves as a medium between organizations and their audiences, facilitating active listening and issue resolution. This allows organizations to monitor conversations, analyze incoming issues and promptly address queries. 

Direct engagement and interaction 

Unlike traditional media channels, social media offers a two-way communication channel, allowing direct engagement and interaction with the public. This enables organizations to address concerns and promptly communicate accurate information. Such direct connection fosters transparency, builds trust and enhances public perception during times of crisis. 

Amplifying reach and mobilizing support

Social media's viral nature facilitates the rapid spread of information, ensuring a wider reach within seconds. During a crisis, this capability becomes invaluable in mobilizing support, whether it's for fundraising, volunteer recruitment or sharing critical resources. Moreover, social media campaigns can quickly gain momentum, harnessing the power of collective action to assist those affected by the crisis. 

Now, let’s understand how to develop a strategy for managing social media crisis communication.

How to develop a social media crisis communication strategy: action plan 

It's essential to implement a strategy before a crisis occurs. Below are some steps to consider while implementing this strategy: 

Prepare in advance 

A crisis can strike at any moment; therefore, it's crucial to proactively implement strategies rather than scrambling at the last moment. Discuss potential crisis scenarios (for example, an airline crash, impacts of natural calamities or any emergency situation that requires brand communication) with the team and prepare appropriate response strategies. 

Establishing empathy 

During a crisis, the audience may experience tension, so organizations need to exhibit empathy by maintaining a kind and compassionate tone in their communications. It's necessary to tailor the tone and voice of your social media posts to match the sensitivity of the situation. 

Ensuring accurate updates  

During a crisis, the risk of rumors is high and misleading information can spread rapidly. Therefore, it is the organization's responsibility to communicate accurate information to their audiences. Before posting any social media content, ensure that the information is correct and verified by the team. 

Plan your platforms to reach the right audience 

In the event of an unfortunate or unforeseen incident, it is crucial to have a well-planned action response across specific platforms. The image below illustrates a framework for effective social media crisis management for brands.

An infographic that explains how to handle a PR crisis in seven steps.

Source 
 
Evaluate the crisis and list all the relevant social media platforms, such as X, formerly X, formerly Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., that will help you reach the maximum target audience. For example, in the case of flight delays or cancellations due to bad weather, airlines can communicate through their official Facebook and X, formerly Twitter pages to relay the information to the maximum number of passengers. 

While responding to a crisis, teams must pause their scheduled posts to avoid distractions.   

Leverage the social listening approach 

During a crisis, staying updated on the situation and monitoring conversations about your brand from employees, customers and followers is crucial. You can adapt a social listening program for crisis-oriented monitoring if you already have one in place. If you don't have such a program, it's advisable to establish a social listening tool or strategy to gather valuable information. 

Also Read: How to manage crisis communication in 2023 (+ checklist) 

Examples of successful social media crisis communication

Examining real-life examples of organizations that effectively utilize social media communication during crises can provide valuable insights. Here are a few notable case studies: 

  • Airline incident: The incident involving an airline that experienced a nose-first landing at a major airport is a prime example of a company effectively managing a crisis using social media communication. The brand demonstrated swift responsiveness and transparent communication on Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, allowing it to take charge of the narrative and uphold customer trust. 

  • Airbnb: During Hurricane Matthew, Airbnb leveraged social media to provide free emergency shelter for those affected by the storm. This initiative showcased the brand's unwavering commitment to community support and generated overwhelmingly positive sentiment.

    Airbnb

    Source

  • Retailer incident: In April 2019, a well-known artist tweeted that an employee at Brand X had called security on them to prevent shoplifting. Social media users, primarily on Twitter, were quick to defend the artist. Some called the employee disrespectful, while others accused the employee of inappropriate behavior. Here's how Brand X responded directly to the artist's original tweet: The company issued an apology and expressed gratitude to the artist for bringing the issue to its attention. This proactive response demonstrated Brand X's commitment to building a customer-centric brand and successfully restored customer interest. 

On the flipside, brands have also encountered numerous instances where they failed to take crisis communication seriously, resulting in significant damage to their reputation and business.  

Also Read: How to detect PR crises in real time and proactively resolve them 

Here’s where platforms like Sprinklr can be an ideal partner for brands in crisis management. It offers advanced capabilities that help teams detect and respond to crises effectively.

  • Social publishing & engagement: Sprinklr Social enables brands to moderate comments and track conversations from various digital channels through one single platform. This provides a comprehensive 360-degree view of customer sentiments and discussions about the brand. Additionally, it allows brands to effortlessly engage with their customers across 30+ social and messaging channels.

  • AI-powered insights: Sprinklr’s AI-powered platform collects data from multiple channels and transforms it into actionable insights based on audience attributes, sentiment and volume metrics. This helps brands optimize their future campaigns and responses based on real-time feedback.

  • Sprinklr’s Smart Alerts help brands stay ahead of any crisis that could potentially impact their reputation.

Advantages of using social media for crisis communication 

Using social media for crisis communications offers multiple benefits. Here are a few:

  • Social media helps brands surface accurate information, ensuring there is no room for misleading information, and only the truth is communicated. This naturally makes people more inclined to use social media as their primary source of news.

  • It enables real-time communication, allowing brands to respond swiftly during a crisis.

  • Social media helps clarify any misleading information or rumors that may arise during a crisis, allowing organizations to set the record straight.

  • It enables organizations to maintain complete transparency and provide direct assistance to people in need, fostering trust and confidence.

  • Social media helps monitor the online sentiments of people regarding a particular brand or service, providing valuable insights for crisis management.

  • It helps evaluate sources of misleading information, empowering brands to address misinformation effectively.

Wrapping up 
Social media has become an invaluable asset for organizations in crisis management. By embracing its potential, organizations can effectively communicate, build trust and navigate through turbulent times. Incorporating social media into a comprehensive crisis management strategy empowers your organization to respond swiftly, provide accurate information and engage with stakeholders. In the event of a crisis:  

  • Ensure that you pause all scheduled posts and devise an immediate communication plan with the crisis team 

  • Post empathetic announcements or crisis responses across appropriate social media platforms to reach the most relevant audience 

  • Ensure that your response aligns with your social media posting policies 

  • Incorporate social listening using platforms like Sprinklr to constantly monitor public sentiments 

By following these steps, your brand can harness the power of social media to manage crises effectively and maintain its reputation in challenging situations.  

Sprinklr Social
Sprinklr Social Platform

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