Social Media Crisis Management

Understand social media crisis management, the steps you can take to prevent or handle a crisis better and how Sprinklr can help you manage crises optimally.

Sprinklr Team
May 2, 2023
9 min read

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Table of Contents

What is social media crisis management? 

Social media crisis management is the set of actions brands take to recognize, identify the root cause of, respond to, and handle a crisis situation. This is important to get right so the brand’s reputation is protected. Poorly managed crisis situations can lead to adverse effects on revenue because users can switch to competitors and boycott brands in extreme cases.

Though, what is a social media crisis in the first place? A social media crisis occurs when there’s a lot of negative sentiment associated with a company or brand, which originates or propagates online. One of the most common starting points is something the brand or its employees did or posted online. A user might post a complaint online, which gets picked up by other users and amplified. Somebody with a large following may have picked it up or been the original poster. These can be the beginning of a social media crisis. 

Another common reason is some content or campaign that went wrong, where the content was interpreted differently from the original intentions. Outrage due to this misinterpretation can quickly spread and escalate to a crisis situation. It’s also important to understand that some negative messaging about a brand from a few people online would not constitute a crisis and can be handled through regular social support methods.

Now that you know what social media crisis management means, let’s look at how you can go about making a strategy.

Social media crisis management strategy

As said before, brands need a clearly documented strategy to manage a social media crisis. The strategy has to specify three main things: when to be used, who are the ones involved and what needs to be done.

The point at which a brand should consider a situation to be a crisis should be clearly thought out and mentioned. This “point” could be in relative terms to what’s normally seen in mentions of the brand. It could also be when negative comments coming in from people with reach go above a certain threshold. Other conditions, such as negative media or news being shared, could also be triggers to implement a strategy. Whatever the triggers may be, they must be clearly documented without ambiguity. Social teams must be able to clearly measure and know when this has happened.

There can be multiple roles involved in social media crisis management. The roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined with no room for doubt. In the heat of a crisis, teams shouldn’t be left wondering about who has to do what. There has to be a clear owner of the entire response who leads the entire effort. They must have the authority to sign off on any actions to be taken. This responsibility should be given to a senior leader who usually reports to the CXOs and so on. In addition, all the roles that constitute the response team must be specified. The leader would have the authority to get everyone to drop what they are doing and create a war room of sorts.

The third piece in the strategy is to define what needs to be done. The exact set of steps depends on the details of the situation. But it should be possible to create a broad checklist of actions to be taken. Some of these might be things like initiating a social media blackout or putting out a first-response message. There can also be templates that are approved for usage quickly because, after all, speed is of utmost importance for initial responses. 

And to wrap this process up, the strategy has to be approved at the leadership level and it needs to be accessible to all stakeholders. 

Steps for preventing a social media crisis

Preventing a crisis situation can be classified into two stages: preventing the root causes of a crisis and handling an issue before it escalates into a crisis.

Preventing the root cause

It’s not possible to anticipate what might cause a social media crisis. But there are some checks and balances brands can put in place to prevent the most common ones. Here’s what your brand can do:

  • Define a clear set of social media guidelines for putting out posts on official handles. This should be comprehensive and needs to include the kind of language and tone the brand should be using, the types of creatives that it’s sticking to and the way in which it can talk about competitors.

  • Have strong access controls on brand accounts with only required people being able to post and access them for periodical reviews.

  • Set up multiple levels of approvals to check that there’s no potentially problematic content.

  • Have strong IT security policies to help prevent breaches affecting the brand’s social accounts.

Handling before escalation

Once a potential crisis comes up despite all the measures taken, brands must take steps to make sure it doesn’t get out of control. The issue must be nipped in the bud. Here’s how you can go about it:

  • Watch and listen for any signs of a potential crisis actively.

  • Set up alerts on any kind of sudden changes in sentiment online towards brands with the right thresholds so potential issues can be captured.

  • Address any issue as soon as it’s noticed and take corrective action, like taking down or modifying any content that is the root cause. 

  • Respond to people who reach out about the issue politely and move conversations to direct channels like DMs to resolve them.

Steps to take during and after a social media crisis 

During a social media crisis, it’s easy to lose control and make mistakes that further the downward spiral. It’s important to control all actions in a coordinated manner and make sure that there are no unnecessary communications on social channels owned by the brand. Some steps that you can take in this situation are:

  • Stop all activities on the brand's social channels which are not related to the channel. Anything that’s out of line will make things worse for the brand. 

  • Bring in a team to manage the situation as it evolves, something like a war room, which stays on top of everything that’s going on.

  • Formulate the right stance and response from the organization’s perspective. A lot of thought must be put into this, making sure that the response addresses the root of the problem.

  • Acknowledge the crisis and apologize if the situation demands it. If there’s any content that caused the crisis, take it down immediately. Even if there’s not enough information, acknowledge that there’s a crisis unfolding and buy time for a proper response.

  • Engage with the people reaching out about issues related to the crisis and use such instances to show the brand actually cares about what happened.

  • Monitor online activity constantly to detect when the crisis is escalating or is being mitigated, until it is back to the normal expected levels.

After the crisis has been handled and the storm blows over, the team cannot rest. If they were able to handle it without any significant damage to your brand’s reputation, it’s a great achievement, depending on the circumstances. But great brands learn from mistakes and put in place the required checks and balances. Some steps that could be taken post crisis are:

  • Do a complete post-mortem analysis of the crisis

  • Find out the reason for it turning into a crisis 

  • Analyze whether it was caught earlier and could not be handled and what could be done to make it better

  • Check if there was an action plan implemented, whether it was effective and if there were any gaps in the plan

  • Document the learnings from the analysis for future reference

  • Incorporate feedback into the crisis management plan based on the learnings

Social media crisis management tips 

Social media crisis management is not easy. Even the best brands have gotten it wrong. The most important thing is to learn from mistakes — our own as well as that of others. Here’s how you can:

  • Keep yourself updated about different crisis situations that arise and how they’re being handled by brands.

  • Create and update internal organization plans with learnings from these experiences.

  • Take quick decisions during times of crisis. There has to be a first response, even if it’s generic and cannot dig into specifics. This helps put your users at ease and reassures them that things will be handled going forward.

  • Keep internal teams informed of what’s going on. Employees, partners and stakeholders would want to know what’s going on and how the brand is responding to the situation.

  • Initiate a complete pause on all unrelated social media posts while the crisis is going on. All scheduled posts need to be canceled. This mechanism must be in place before any crisis comes up.

6 benefits of social media crisis management 

How a brand handles a crisis shapes the perception of customers. Crisis situations are an opportunity for the brand to win over users. Having a sound social media crisis management plan can benefit your brand in the following ways:

  1. Enables quick response to crisis situations on social media: Social media crisis management allows you to detect and respond to crisis situations on social media quickly. This enables your brand to contain the situation before it escalates, and reduce the potential damage to the brand's reputation. By being able to respond to crises promptly, the brand can demonstrate that it is actively engaged with its customers and is committed to resolving issues as soon as possible.

  2. Minimizes the negative impact of crisis situations on brand reputation: The negative impact of a crisis situation on social media can be significant, and it can harm your brand's reputation in the eyes of customers. Social media crisis management can help minimize the negative impact of a crisis by providing a structured approach to managing the situation, and by ensuring that your brand's response is appropriate and effective.

  3. Increases customer trust and loyalty by showing responsiveness and transparency: By being responsive and transparent during a crisis situation on social media, your brand can build trust and loyalty with customers. When your brand is seen as taking responsibility for the situation and making an effort to resolve it, customers are more likely to view the brand positively and remain loyal to it.

  4. Provides an opportunity to turn a crisis into a positive experience for customers: Social media crisis management can provide your brand with an opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive one. By addressing the concerns and needs of customers in a crisis situation, the brand can show that it values its customers and is committed to their satisfaction. This can lead to increased customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.

  5. Offers valuable insights into customer sentiment and feedback, which can be used to improve the brand's products or services: Crisis situations on social media can provide valuable insights into customer sentiment and feedback. By analyzing the conversations and feedback from customers during a crisis situation, your brand can gain valuable insights into how customers perceive your products or services. This information can be used to improve your offerings and strengthen customer relationships.

  6. Mitigates potential legal and regulatory risks that may arise from crisis situations on social media: Crisis situations on social media can also present potential legal and regulatory risks for your brand. By having a social media crisis management plan in place, your brand can mitigate these risks by ensuring that it complies with all relevant laws and regulations, and by being able to respond to any legal or regulatory issues that may arise.

Social media crisis management examples

It goes without saying that In the past there have been examples of good crisis management and bad crisis management, both of which impacted brand reputations considerably. Here are two examples on both sides of the spectrum from the same industry. 

The United Airlines crisis

When United Airlines had an overbooked flight and used force to deplane a passenger, it went viral. There was a lot of outrage against the airline. This was a full-blown crisis. Their response to the crisis did not help save the brand reputation. There was a delay in addressing the issue, even though it was getting a lot of attention. The response did come and the company didn’t take the sentiment of the public into account. Their statement tried to push the blame on to a passenger’s behavior when the public were clearly in support of him. It did not present any facts or apology. This sustained the crisis and affected the airline’s reputation a great deal. 

The Southwest Airline response to flight disaster

Once, a Southwest Airline flight made an emergency landing due to an engine explosion. This had resulted in the tragic death of a passenger and others were terribly shaken. The airline responded initially by providing information about the disaster in real time. They helped quell the anxiety of the near and dear ones of those affected through their social handles. Additionally, they made direct contact with the people who were on the flight to get them the assistance they needed. In the middle of this, they made sure to pause all ongoing social media ads and campaigns. There were no out-of-tone posts or anything close. This response helped keep their brand reputation.

Social media crisis management best practices

The best organizations and brands have detailed and in-depth processes in place for social media crisis management. We can learn from them and apply their processes to our own brands’ activities. 

Plan ahead: Crisis management must be planned for even before a crisis hits. Waiting and hoping it would never happen is a poor practice. There has to be a detailed plan in place with clear actions to be taken when a crisis situation arises.

Prepare outlines and responses: It might not be possible to predict what kind of crises might emerge. But teams could brainstorm for the most common possibilities and prepare possible responses. These can be templates that serve as a starting point. Having this in place saves time and lets teams respond quickly. At least the initial responses can be templatized with further steps being decided on the go.

Get clarity on when to activate a crisis response: Brands must have a clear idea of when to go into crisis management mode. A minimum criteria of how to identify a crisis has to be set. For example, a 20% increase in negative sentiment messages can be enough to trigger the crisis response and to look for the root cause.

Measure impact in real time for insights: There must be proactive tracking of the reasons for the crisis and how it’s progressing. The impact on a brand’s posts, the amount of attention given to them and other predefined metrics must be tracked. And these should be readily shareable with relevant leaders and stakeholders.

How can Sprinklr help in crisis management?

Sprinklr is a brand’s ideal partner in crisis management. Through advanced capabilities, teams can be alerted when there is a crisis brewing. How, you ask? Well, here are the features that can help make it happen:

  • Get a unified view of the voice of your customers: Sprinklr can unify how you moderate comments across all of the digital channels your customers use — including dark posts that many point solutions can’t track — onto a single, unified platform, giving your team a 360-degree view of conversations about your brand.

  • Capture critical insights in real time: The Sprinklr Intuition AI automatically gathers data from multiple channels and transforms it into actionable insights based on your audience's attributes, sentiment and volume metrics, so you can optimize future campaigns accordingly.

  • Optimize your marketing strategy with AI-powered Smart Alerts: Sprinklr Smart Alerts figure out the patterns in your content volume and sentiment — pausing potentially low-performing ads and offering variations, and putting spend behind those that meet performance benchmarks.

  • Unlock AI-based stories for real-time crisis monitoring and impact measurement: Conduct event-level monitoring and reporting — without the need for extensive keywords — with stories that automatically group media content about an event across 15+ languages.

All of these nifty capabilities can help trigger the responses needed and activate your strategy. And all template responses needed to engage with users can be pre-saved for usage when required. Also, an overall blackout can be initiated to pause all publishing of scheduled posts when there’s an ongoing crisis. To top it off, rules and automation can be set up to help teams resolve the crisis holistically.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, social media is a really important tool in times of crisis. Irrespective of the type of crisis, it gives brands a medium to reach out and put forth their point of view. Users first search for the brand’s social handles for an indication of their response. So, this has to be the first port of call for brands.

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