5 Best Examples of Social Media Crisis Management

Karishma Borkakoty

January 17, 202416 min read

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If your brand's hashtag is trending on social media, it's either a magnificent day or a terrible one. There's really no middle ground here. When things are going great and your brand is getting positive attention, it's smooth sailing. But when you're hit with a crisis? That's when things get real tough. 

Handling a social media crisis is no walk in the park. Every word counts when you’re dealing with a crisis. Say something wrong, and you could end up making people angrier, which will lead to you losing customer by the dozen. But if you deal with it the right way, you might just pull through and come out stronger on the other side. It's about striking that right chord — being genuine, understanding and responsive. 

Yes, it can be awfully stressful to deal with a social media crisis that could, potentially, tarnish your brand’s image for good. But there’s hope yet. And to show you that light at the end of the tunnel, we’ve rounded up five social media crisis management examples. These are some of the best real-life stories of how brands faced their darkest social media moments. Think of these as your go-to guidebook for those “What now?” moments, if your brand ever takes a hit. And remember that, even in a tough spot, there's always a chance to rewrite your story. So, shall we begin? 

Table of Contents

Example #1: The fiery fallout of a “one chip challenge” 

In 2016, a tortilla chip company introduced a “one chip challenge,” an audacious marketing stunt involving a single tortilla chip coated with some of the world's hottest peppers. It went viral, especially among teens. However, the company hit a snag when some of these young daredevils began experiencing adverse health reactions, resulting in a few hospitalizations. After these incidents, the company faced intense criticism on social media across the country. 

How the chip company handled the heat 

Swift withdrawal of the challenge and the product: In September 2023, the chip company promptly stopped the challenge and discontinued the sale of the spicy tortilla chip, prioritizing public safety over viral fame. 

Public acknowledgment and apology: The company issued a statement acknowledging the health risks, especially to those with underlying health conditions, and offered refunds to customers who had purchased these specific chips. 

Internal review for future strategies: The brand conducted an in-depth review to understand how their adult-targeted challenge became a risky viral trend among younger audiences. The internal investigation was also aimed at preventing future occurrences of similar issues. 

Lessons learned: The bigger picture 

Marketing with care: There’s a thin line between a sizzling idea and getting burnt. While creative campaigns can quickly gain popularity, they also carry the risk of unforeseen negative consequences. Brands must thoroughly assess their campaigns' potential risks and impacts, especially those designed to go viral. They need to be prepared to manage any unexpected outcomes that could spiral out of control. It's about finding a balance between innovative marketing and responsible brand management. 

Example #2: When a major soft drink brand tried to join the conversation and missed the mark 

In April 2017, a prominent beverage company decided it was time to show the world that it, too, could speak the millennial language. With an ad that aimed to capture the spirit of protest and activism synonymous with the era, the brand launched a campaign that featured a zeitgeist icon. The ad's plot? A simple one: The featured celebrity leaves a photo shoot, joins a protest and hands a can of soda to a police officer, miraculously bridging gaps and easing tensions. The company's message seemed clear: A soda can solve societal issues. Except, well, society said, "No, it can't." 

The backlash was swift and fierce. The ad, in its attempt to bottle the essence of protest and activism, seemed to trivialize the real and often painful struggles behind socially aware movements. Rather than being a unifying force, the ad was perceived as a tone-deaf and opportunistic move to capitalize on social issues for commercial gain. The result? Less than 48 hours later, the brand pulled the ad, but the conversation was far from over. 

How the beverage brand handled the backlash 

Admission and withdrawal: This beverage brand’s first move was to pull the ad from all social media channels immediately. It admitted to its misstep and didn't try to justify it. This rapid response was crucial in signaling that the company was attentive to the public's outcry and willing to take corrective action. 

A direct apology: Next, the brand twirled into action with a public apology. The brand apologized not just to the public but to the featured celeb, acknowledging the awkward spot they put them in. It’s rare to see a brand say "sorry" to both its audience and its ambassador. This showed a level of responsibility and sensitivity not often seen in corporate apologies. 

Internal review and learning: What followed after was an intense internal review. The beverage brand likely embarked on a comprehensive internal review. This involved analyzing the decision-making process that led to the ad's creation and approval, identifying where things went wrong and learning from these insights to prevent similar issues in the future. 

Lessons learned: The bigger picture 

Tap into the Zeitgeist, but don’t exploit it: This beverage company’s ad blunder wasn’t just a misstep; it was a misread of the societal mood. The lesson? If you’re stepping into a conversation, especially one loaded with social or political weight, do more than just joining the movement or cause. Understand the depth, the nuances and the emotions at play.  

Be real and authentic: If your brand is going to take a stand or align with a cause, it should resonate with your core values. Consumers are savvy; they can spot a poser even through an ad a mile away. So, if it doesn't come from a place of genuine alignment, it's probably best left on the cutting room floor.  

Example #3: A major airlines’ PR nightmare over videos of a man being dragged off a plane 

In April 2017, A famous airline faced a PR nightmare when a video surfaced online showing a passenger being dragged off an overbooked flight. A flight, which was scheduled to fly from Chicago O'Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky, was overbooked. The airline needed to make room for four of its employees on the already full flight. Initially, this airline company asked for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for compensation. When there were not enough volunteers, the airline decided to select passengers to be involuntarily bumped off the flight.  

The incident quickly spiraled into a global controversy, with the video amassing millions of views and sparking outrage over the treatment of passengers. Several passengers captured the entire episode on smartphones and the videos went viral. 

The airline’s response to the crisis evolved over time. Initially, the CEO's statement, which described the incident as having to "re-accommodate" passengers, was heavily criticized for its lack of empathy. Recognizing the misstep, the company took several steps to rectify the situation. Here they are. 

How the airline handled the controversy  

Immediate response: The airline initially issued a statement that was criticized for its lack of empathy. Recognizing this, the CEO released a more heartfelt apology acknowledging the company's failure in treating the customer with respect and dignity. The CEO didn't defend the airline's actions. Instead, he accepted "full responsibility," committed to reviewing and changing company policies and assured that such an incident would not occur again. 

Policy overhaul: The airline conducted a comprehensive review of its overbooking policy and announced several modifications in response to the incident. These changes include prohibiting the use of law enforcement officers to remove passengers from flights due to overbooking and increasing the compensation limit up to $10,000 for volunteers who give up their seats. This airline brand has also become serious about improving staff training. The goal is to ensure its crew is better prepared to handle tense situations and prevent escalations. 

Empowering employees: The company empowered its employees to offer on-the-spot goodwill gestures in the form of miles, travel credits and other means of compensation to solve customer issues. 

Communication strategy: The airline communicated these policy changes through various channels, ensuring both customers and employees were aware of the new practices. 

Lessons learned: The bigger picture 

Embrace humanity in communication: If this airlines company taught us anything, it's that the heart of crisis management is, well, having a heart. When things go south, ditch the corporate jargon. Speak like a human, to humans. Show that you're not just fixing policies, but you're also genuinely fixing your relationship with your customers. In short: Be real. Be empathetic. Be human. 

Example #4: A major clothing brand’s cultural insensitivity and diversity oversight in an ad 

In 2018, a famous clothing brand found itself in the eye of a storm over an ad. On its UK website, it featured an ad with a young black child wearing a sweatshirt that read “coolest monkey in the jungle.” You can guess what happened next. The internet went into meltdown mode. The backlash was intense, and people were upset. Many eminent celebrities even cut ties with the brand. The retailer’s stores faced vandalism, and the company's stock took a nosedive. The message was loud and clear: The world wouldn't stand for such insensitivity. 

In response, the brand’s communications and press department sprang into action, even though it was a bit late. It scrubbed their website and social networks of any material related to the incident. But the real challenge was repairing the damage done to their reputation. 

The steps this fast-fashion clothing brand took to get rid of the ‘culturally insensitive’ tag 

Immediate product and advertising withdrawal: As soon as the backlash began, the brand quickly removed the controversial image from its website and all online platforms. It also pulled the product itself from its stores, demonstrating its acknowledgment of the issue and immediate response to public sentiment. 

Issued a public apology and statement: Next, it issued a public apology almost two days after the controversy erupted. The company’s initial apology, criticized for its lateness, came across as insincere, almost as if it was mechanically read from a corporate script. But then, the brand followed up with something more genuine — a detailed press release to express regret over the incident. 

Internal evaluation to understand what went wrong: The brand also conducted an internal investigation to understand how the image got approved for advertising. This review involved evaluating its approval processes and identifying the gaps in its checks that led to such a significant oversight. 

Training session on diversity and inclusion: This clothing company even implemented new training programs for its employees, focusing on cultural sensitivity, diversity and inclusion. These programs were designed to educate its staff on the importance of understanding and respecting different cultures and backgrounds, especially in the context of marketing and product presentation. 

Kept the lines of conversation open and transparent: The brand didn’t just issue a couple of apologies to get away. Following the incident, the brand made efforts to communicate more openly with its customers about the steps it was taking to improve. This included consistent messaging about its commitment to diversity and inclusion and updates on the progress of its new initiatives. 

Lessons learned: The bigger picture  

Be a gatekeeper of diversity and inclusion: Finally, the crisis emphasized that diversity and inclusion shouldn't be reactive measures. They should be integrated proactively into the company’s core values and practices to foster an inclusive and aware corporate culture. So, before you launch a campaign, especially one that touches on social or political themes, get a variety of perspectives and encourage employees to voice their opinions before deciding on the theme of such sensitive campaigns. 

Example #5: A prominent personal care brand’s ad evoked outrage on social media 

In October 2017, A popular self-care brand known for embracing inner beauty, faced a wave of backlash and accusations of racial insensitivity over a Facebook advertisement. The ad, intended to showcase the brand's commitment to diversity and the inclusion of women of different races, instead sparked controversy and criticism across social media. The ad showed a black woman removing her brown shirt to reveal a white woman, and let's just say, social media went into a frenzy, and it really didn't go down well with anyone.  

How the self-care brand handled all the accusations 

Immediate withdrawal of the advertisement: The brand quickly recognized the gravity of the situation and promptly removed the controversial advertisement from all platforms. This immediate action was a crucial first step in addressing the backlash and preventing further spread of the offensive content. 

Public acknowledgment and apology: Without any delay, this brand took to its social media channels, notably X and Facebook, to issue a public apology. It acknowledged that it had “missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully.” This apology was an essential step in publicly owning up to its mistake and beginning the process of making amends. 

Engagement with the public and stakeholders: In response to the widespread criticism, this self-care company also engaged in conversations with its audience, including both regular consumers and public figures who had voiced their concerns. This engagement was an attempt to understand the depth of the issue and to show the brand’s commitment to addressing the concerns raised. 

Revised advertising strategies and review processes: The brand revisited its advertising strategies and review processes to ensure that future campaigns are thoroughly vetted for cultural and racial sensitivity. This involved setting up more stringent review processes and including more diverse perspectives in its decision-making. 

Lessons learned: The bigger picture 

Look once, twice and thrice before you leap: This ad was a reminder for this famous self-care brand to check, double-check and then check again how its messages might come across. It’s all about perspective — ensuring the message aligns with how it might be perceived. In addition, this incident had pushed the company to ensure its decision-making team is as diverse as its customer base. More viewpoints can mean fewer blind spots. 

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

Crisis management tips to improve your strategy 

Being prepared for a crisis means more than just having a good PR team. It’s about integrating technology and AI into your crisis management strategy. With that in mind, here are five detailed tips to strengthen your current crisis management strategy. 

Tip #1: Monitor social media like a hawk 

In any crisis, social media is like your town square — it's where everyone's talking. Use AI-driven social media monitoring and listening tools to keep an ear to the ground. These tools can track mentions, sentiment and even emerging trends related to your industry. 

Sprinklr’s social listening tool can analyze large volumes of social media data to gauge public sentiment. This feature is particularly useful in quickly assessing the mood and tone of customer conversations during a crisis, allowing for more informed decision-making.

Sprinklr-s Unified Marketing Calendar showing planned publishing activities for various social media channels in a day-to-day view.

Tip #2: Analyze customer sentiments in real time 

It’s important to gauge how your audience feels about your brand, especially during a crisis. The social media sentiment analysis algorithms of the right tools process large volumes of data from social posts and customer reviews to determine the public sentiment towards your brand. This information is crucial for tailoring your crisis response effectively. 

Tip #3: Respond to inquiries efficiently

During a crisis, you might receive an overwhelming number of inquiries and comments. AI-powered chatbots can handle this surge by providing immediate, consistent responses to common questions. This ensures timely communication and helps manage public concerns effectively. It’s like having a team of PR assistants who don’t need coffee breaks.

Sprinklr-s AI-powered listening capability in action.

Tip # 4: Refine your crisis strategy with data-driven insights 

After a crisis, you need to debrief and learn. AI-powered reporting tools can crunch numbers and dissect social media data to give you insights into what worked and what didn’t with your campaigns, and why. This information is invaluable for refining your crisis management approach. As such, Sprinklr’s reporting and analytics tool can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of your campaigns and gauge audience reactions. 

Take everything as an opportunity to learn rather than dwelling on the setbacks 

Even if you feel pretty confident about your current social media crisis plan, there's always something you can do better. The key is to really dig into what went wrong in any situation. Ask the tough questions: Where did the breakdown happen? Could we have seen it coming? 

Next up, bring your team together. It's important to have a candid chat about what everyone thinks. This isn't just about top-down decisions; you want to hear from everyone — your team, stakeholders and anyone who’s got a say in how your brand looks to the outside world. 

Dealing with a social media crisis can be tough, no doubt. But you get to see which parts of your plan actually hold up and which parts crumble under pressure. It's a chance to learn what works and what doesn't. 

In this phase of refining your strategy, a tool like Sprinklr’s AI-powered reputation and brand management tool can be invaluable. With its real-time media monitoring capabilities, you can detect issues early and respond proactively, preventing them from escalating. The crisis management capabilities within the tool ensure coordinated responses by automatically escalating high-risk mentions. Moreover, its analytics provides insights into the effectiveness of your crisis response, helping you learn and adapt quickly. 

From there, take all the insights and use it to make your social media crisis plan even stronger. It's all about making it better, step by step. You want a strategy that you can rely on — something that makes you think, “All right, if things go sideways, we’ve got this”. 

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