10 Steps to Creating a Social Media Crisis Strategy

Reading Time: 9 mins

Do you have an online strategy in place if your business comes under fire? Would you know how to defend your company’s reputation online, making use of Social Media? If not, it’s time to plan ahead, and create a Social Media Crisis Strategy.

As a business owner, you most likely dread the day some form of emergency or crisis occurs that damages your brand and reputation. But fear not; if a Social Media Crisis Strategy is set into place, it can counteract your problems effectively.

Whether the emergency is directly related to Social Media, such as a hacked company Social Network account, or gaining momentum elsewhere, such as a bad review growing in popularity across the web; using your Social Media presence to your advantage can dramatically reduce the harm caused to your brand.

Why does this matter?

Social Media allows opinions of brands and companies to spread like wildfire; and word of mouth has never been as important to reputation as it is online. Customers can have thousands of followers, which is a huge community in which to persuade your brand is useless/incompetent/evil.

Google also implemented social media into search results, so you don’t want people to be searching for your brand, to only see complaints about it. By merely adding a hashtag into a Google Search, potential customers can see exactly what is being said about your brand.

Burger King’s Twitter page was hacked, and changed to McDonalds, as demonstrated below. Would you know what to do in this situation?


So how do you go about successfully defending your brand, and minimising the damage caused to your business if a crisis strikes?

Plan Ahead

Have a plan of what to do when a crisis occurs. This includes:

• What Social Networks to use for what cause
• Designate a spokesperson who will be in charge of responding
• Ensure you know how quickly you can respond via different means
• Prepare responses before crises hit, considering tone, messaging, and choice of words.
• Consider what emergencies have occurred before, how these can be prevented, and how damage can be limited if it were to occur once more
• Research what crises competitors have faced, how they have dealt with it, and the success of their crisis strategy
• Consider this: can you create an apology video from your CEO within a space of hours?

Monitor and Listen

A crisis is a crisis for a reason. You can’t see it coming, so it’s important you’re the first to know.

Monitor any mentions of your business on the web and Social Media; whether within the networks themselves or by an RSS feed. You could potentially nip any complaints in the bud, and ensure any problems are dealt with swiftly (often leading to customer praise instead). If all else fails, get some social listening software.

You can ask for customers to contact you privately via email to sort it out, keeping any problems out of the public eye. Note: You must follow a customer on Twitter to allow them to private message you for discrete conversations.

Acknowledge Problems ASAP

It’s important to be the first to know about any problems, but it’s essential to be the first to acknowledge the problem on Social Media. Take the blame, be transparent about any issues, and explain how you are going to sort it out. Customers can’t ask for any more.

Companies that detect and begin to fix incidents before it’s gone viral have a lot more chance of avoiding consumer backlash, as they’re seen as trying to help. If a solution is available, it makes the company look a lot more helpful and understanding than merely hiding complaints.

Ensure your tone is in line with the seriousness of the incident at hand, and your company itself. If it’s not too serious, some light-heartedness can work well; but if it’s a serious issue where consumers are at risk somehow, then keep the updates and replies serious.

Don’t change the facts, but change how your customers respond, and how they feel about the incident in question. If you’re sorry, be truly sorry. If it’s not your fault, be clear and concise about this, but remember to take responsibility of the problem, as displacing the blame will only anger customers more. Sincerity goes a long way.

Example: Buffer Hack

A hack is a pretty serious issue; but Buffer, the social media managing suite, handled it very well. Customers heard all the details from Buffer first, before any other source. Buffer owned the personal touch, seeming very human and sincere about it all, whilst acknowledging how serious the situation was. Not only this, but they gave advice, sent out emails to all users, kept their audience updated in any way possible, and heightened security measures after the ordeal. Although they were hacked, these actions actually made customers feel more secure and valued.


Respond to Customers

Don’t just ignore any customers that do contact you via Social Networks. As soon as you know about the incident in question, make it public knowledge that you DO know. It will save a lot of face.

Respond to them with personalised messages, and avoid sending out a generic blanket apology to everyone.

Never has “the customer is always right” been truer than on Social Media, with mobs coming to attack brands in the wrong. Of course, there are always people making hugely uninformed/exaggerated accusations on the internet, but going on the defence and enraging a customer further is never a good move. It will lose you more than just that single customer in question, and it does not reflect well. Be punctual, and be transparent in your responses.

Give Customers a Platform

Failing this, give customers a place to have their voices heard, so the problems can be discussed and dealt with accordingly.

Of course, in giving customers a platform to vent their frustration, it also gives people a place to defend your company. You know you’ve made it as a brand if your customers are willing to defend you.

Don’t delete negative comments. This would only spawn more negative comments. Unless it’s offensive, then you’re allowed to take it down. This will increase transparency, and shows your company is taking action to solve customer problems. This is clearly demonstrated by how Nestlé handled their Facebook page, and the response it gained:


Keep in Contact

Allow customers to get in contact with you easily, whether this is via Social Media itself, a complaint form, or a direct email address.

Ensure customers have access to this means of contact, so a solution can be provided to them individually. Don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for them to get in touch.

Keep Employees Informed

Ensure that all employees know how to handle the situation, and that they will respond accordingly, depending on the problem involved. Make sure all employees understand the situation, and know the plan to deal with it, inside and out.

Create a FAQ

If it’s an intricate problem, such as a security breach or hacking, then create a FAQ landing page for the people concerned, and hopefully this will answer their queries before they get in touch and complain.

The FAQ can include:

• Details of the risk/problem
• Photos
• How the incident was discovered
• Who was alerted
• Specific actions taken
• Potential effects
• How you will prevent a recurrence
• Contact information

Have an Offline Plan

If there is a lot of back and forth to be done, it doesn’t all have to be done on Social Media. If it needs a third reply, be sure to take it offline, or to a more private setting where it can be discussed with the customer in greater depth.


When it’s all over and done with, make sure to document what happened, how it was resolved, and what you would change next time. If a crisis occurs again, you’ll be sure to know what to do.

Always remember:

Retaliation is not the answer. Denial is not the answer. Being open, helpful, and apologetic is all anyone can ask for. Remember to address any issues your find online, and don’t ignore them.

If you need help putting together a Social Media Policy, then check here!

Are you prepared to deal with emergencies using Social Media? Have you dealt with a crisis effectively? Let us know your thoughts and additions in the comments below!