Your Comprehensive Guide to Social Media Crisis Management
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Your Comprehensive Guide to Social Media Crisis Management

Every B2B marketer has had their fair share of bad days.

Sending the wrong campaign to a huge email list. Forgetting to share screen during a live webinar. Tagging the wrong company in a Tweet. Failing to print enough conference materials. You name it!

But like everything in life, the severity of an issue is relative to its impact.

A few grammatical errors are far less damaging to your brand than let’s say, your domain crashing (ring any bells?).

That’s right. What happened to Marketo last year – and the outrage that it sparked – is something we can all recall.

On July 25, 2017 Marketo’s website was down for a good 14 hours, after which some users still had trouble accessing the website for the next 48 hours! Landing pages, web forms, tracking scripts, and emails of thousands of companies were down. Digital marketers everywhere in the world went on Twitter to blow off some steam, turning the issue into a public social media crisis.

Looking back, we can all agree that Marketo’s domain crisis was a true nightmare for the company. Fortunately enough, they successfully managed to recover from it.

By implementing a thorough social media crisis management plan in advance, you too can prevent any crisis from hitting your company, and if necessary, manage one effectively to mitigate the damage to your brand image and customers.

To find out more about crisis management and how to have a secure, compliant, and collaborative social media platform, watch one of our webinars today!

Before a Crisis

1. Define ‘Crisis’

Not every negative comment or defamatory image calls for company-wide action.

So before making an elephant from an ant, listen to Jay Baer who clearly defines what is and what is not a “social media crisis”. Baer suggests three signs for detecting a social media crisis:

  • Information asymmetry – when the public knows more (than your company) about the issue and they voice it on social. That’s your first sign of a social media crisis.
  • A change from the norm – a few critical product reviews are noise, not a crisis. But when there’s a series of public outcries, different from the ordinary, that’s your second sign of a social media crisis.
  • Dramatic impact on the company – the magnitude of the crisis is also important to acknowledge. Whether it’s deteriorating your reputation or driving customers to churn, a true ‘crisis’ must have a noticeably negative effect on your company.

Every company is different, so make sure to identify what a potential crisis looks like for yours. Look for major weaknesses that are most likely to erupt at random.

For clarity’s sake, share the definition with the company to ensure that every employee is able to detect a crisis in its early stages.

2. Build a “Social Crisis Team”

Imagine a crisis breaks out. Instead of everyone running around like headless chickens, startled by how to cool down the fire, you need a dedicated team that’s going to be empowered to immediately take action. And of course, reduce the crisis from growing out of control.


Although social media falls under the marketing department, the roles should be divided across various teams like sales, customer service, HR, and senior leadership.

Make sure your social media crisis team has at least one representative from each department.

The roles should be assigned as followed:

  • The Strategists – responsible for taking leadership of the social media crisis plan by ensuring the team stays on target. They should also be the ones to serve as spokespeople for the media.
  • The Analysts – during a crisis, the analysts should be constantly monitoring social media and other online channels for crisis-related keywords, company mentions, and comments that need to be responded to. They should also be responsible for documenting everything!
  • The Content Specialists – as the creative thinkers and writers of the team, this group is responsible for owning the messaging that’s published across all channels.

3. Establish your Core Values

If a crisis breaks out, you won’t be able to control how customers will react or what they’ll say on social. But what you can control is your own messaging.

With a proactive team established, you can ensure consistency in messaging across every possible network and platform. Communicating the company’s perspective in a genuine yet apologetic manner is key to regaining the public’s trust in your product or service.

Although you can’t prepare the specific responses, you can lay down your core values as a company – what shapes your culture, mission, and vision. Instead of citing your technical competencies, focus on the underlying characteristics that make your company and its people special.

For example, ‘accountability’ and ‘integrity’ are both core values that take a proactive and honest stance in maintaining satisfied customers without compromising the truth.

Whatever your core values may be, they must be reflected through every post and response you publish during a crisis.

If you want to minimize the outrage and stop customers from turning away, you’ve got to remind them why they chose you in the first place!

4. Create Communication Guidelines

Once your basic messaging are set in stone, the next step is to publish them.

To ensure that employees are all following company best-practices, it’s recommended to create a formal communication guideline.

This guideline should include the following items:

  • Network-specific guidelines: every social media channel has its own characteristics – LinkedIn is professional, while Facebook and Twitter are more casual. Before posting, make sure the communication team is aware of the different network formats.
  • Audience-specific guidelines: during a crisis, expect a lot of chatter on social media. Some messages will come from disappointed customers, others will come from inquisitive media personnel. Know your audience and the rules for communicating with them so you can best represent your company.
  • Process-specific guidelines: decide on a process to best deliver updates via your website or other company channels outside of social media. Craft some basic templates and sample answers to ensure employees respond appropriately.

While there’s always room for light-hearted humor, it’s important to handle the crisis in the most professional manner. By preparing these guidelines in advance, you’ll be more likely to stick with a specific tone that will be echoed across every channel and employee.

5. Monitor the Environment

A crisis is like a disease. If not cured early, the symptoms can quickly spread and contaminate your entire social media feed.

Spotting the early warning signs is a crucial step for preventing deep damage to your brand. The challenge is conducting a diagnosis across multiple networks in an efficient and scalable way.

The simple solution is social listening – a strategy that entails live monitoring of social media feeds for trending topics, competitor activity, and company mentions.

The idea is to always be proactive!

If there’s negative sentiment surrounding your brand, your social media manager (or public relations professional) can mitigate it before it turns into a full crisis.

They can either address the issue by responding immediately or assigning the message to a relevant employee who’s equipped to handle the matter.

After all, the worst time to be handling a crisis (or a disease) is after it’s already erupted. The earlier you can spot the symptoms, the sooner you can get it under control.

During a Crisis

6. Pause ALL Social Media Activity

Flashback to Marketo’s domain crisis: their product is down, customers are frustrated, and Twitter is blowing up with criticism.

Meanwhile, a scheduled post, “Happy Monday everyone!” goes live on Marketo’s Twitter feed…

Even worst… Marketo’s employee advocates also have the same post scheduled to go out on their personal networks.

Luckily, this is a made up story!

But you can imagine just how minor accidents like these could easily exacerbate a sensitive situation, making your company look pretty bad.


The bottom line: save yourself the embarrassment by pressing the “stop” button on all scheduled social media activity across company and employee accounts.

7. Inform Employees

To prevent a broken telephone, send a company-wide email that clearly addresses the issue.

While you may not be able to share every detail of what has happened, a simple, honest statement will help clear the air, while reducing any speculations or fear.

The email should also reassure team members that they can ask questions at any time. During a crisis, information is the one thing that can maintain a sense of control.

By now, you should already have a crisis team established. In a separate email, alert your team to get into their roles and act quickly. Reiterate that the sooner they act, the less damage the crisis will have.

8. Publish an Official Statement

When a crisis strikes, you want to be the first to report about it.

The first statement your company publishes must be clear and concise – something professional that reassures various stakeholders that you’re aware of the issue and are currently dealing with it. This will also help you buy time to prepare a more detailed briefing.

Going back to the Marketo domain crisis – here’s a great example of how your first message should read (this one was published by Steve Lucas, Marketo’s CEO):

An honest and apologetic statement is all you need to settle the dust, but only for the first few hours or minutes until more probing journalists and angry customers poke for answers.

Once you’ve gathered the what, where, why, and how, publish a more comprehensive statement to your company website, leaving room for questions and answers.

Just like Marketo has done so professionally:

(Screenshot Source)

And here’s the email they sent out to customers:

9. Transparent Communication

Besides releasing an official statement, it’s just as important to maintain an open line of communication with customers, partners, investors, and even those beloved journalists.

This way, your reputation and brand equity will be able to weather the storm and come out stronger than ever before – something that not many companies succeed in doing.

Take Marketo as an example. Despite the deep impact on customer operations, the company (and its dedicated employees) delivered an all-encompassing customer support, making themselves available on every possible channel.

Not to mention, Marketo’s CEO, Steve Lucas, led the company’s online communication in the most sensitive, transparent, and timely fashion; constantly promising to share more information and making the issue a high priority.

Ultimately, Marketo’s ability to create such a transparent ecosystem, powered by their CEO, is what helped the company mitigate the heavy consequences.

The take-home message here is: even if there’s not a lot to report on, stay in touch with the public through frequent updates until the issue is officially resolved. This will go a long way towards winning the hearts of your customers.

10. Document Everything

I mean everything!

  • Take screenshots of every Tweet, Facebook & LinkedIn post, blog comment, etc. pertaining to the crisis (in a good or bad way). This is where your social listening tool is invaluable!
  • Keep copies of every email sent and received
  • Take note of stakeholders who had your back (and remember to thank them later)
  • Do a Google search for keywords relating to the crisis (to find who initiated the conversation – maybe it was a direct competitor)
  • Screenshot employee responses and comments (to analyze later)

All of this documentation will help you uncover important information like where and when the crisis broke out, which channels it spread across, and how it got there in the first place.

Do your homework properly so that you can analyze the impact on a more granular level.

11. Put Emotions Aside

A small piece of advice: don’t take yourself too seriously.

With criticism and angry comments circulating social media, your best bet is to confront the situation head-on, without taking offense to all the negative feedback.

Whether the claims people are making are true or exaggerated, put emotions aside and think logically. This will allow you to calmly handle the situation.

Better yet, try lightening up the mood with some good-old-fashioned humor. Even when Marketo was trying to rise up from the crisis, funny Memes, witty GIF’s and cat videos (yes, cat videos!), were dominating Twitter feeds as a way to poke fun at the situation:

When things go down, humor always prevails, so don’t hide from it. It’s okay to have a laugh at yourself every once in a while – especially on social media!

After a Crisis

12. Evaluate the Impact

Whether a storm or a hurricane, it’s time to take a good look at the crisis so the impact can be analyzed.

This is where your social monitoring and documentation can be turned into valuable insights.

By collecting enough data, you’ll be able to compare what a “normal” social media week looks like versus a “crisis week”. The results should quickly alert you of the depth of the impact so you can plan for future events.

Key metrics to monitor include:

  • Website traffic patterns from social – considering the sheer volume of social media conversations surrounding your brand, it only makes sense that your website gained just as much traction.
  • Search volume patterns – with a simple tool like Google Trends, you can identify how often your crisis-related words were searched for across various regions of the world, and in various languages. This will help you understand just how top-of-mind your crisis was.
  • The volume of inbound conversations – analyze the number comments, mentions, and direct messages that your social handles received.
  • Positive vs. negative brand sentiment – different emotions, attitudes, and opinions about your brand serve as a great measure of your brand’s reputation.
  • Follower trends – bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity. By measuring the total number of new and current followers, you can determine whether the crisis gained or lost your audience members.
  • Amount of employee-shared content – you implemented an employee advocacy program for a reason! Analyze employee involvement and support by identifying the number of crisis-related posts they shared.
  • Engagement with company VS. employees – employees are known to be a more trustworthy and relatable voice for your company. See whether this is true during a crisis by comparing the level of likes, shares, clicks, and comments between your employees and corporate messages.
  • Audience demographics – what may feel like a small crisis to your organization, on social media, it’s amplified across various countries and continents. That’s why it’s best to understand where your crisis hit, so you can properly evaluate the impact.
  • Average response time – as highlighted time after time, a crisis plan is nothing without timely communication. Take this opportunity to see just how prompt employees were in providing a follow-up to customer questions or feedback.

13. Regroup to Reflect

If you thought your crisis team’s job is over, think again.

Once the fire has been extinguished, and the wounds have healed, it’s time to come full circle by going over the strongest and weakest points of your crisis plan – and how it all unfolded.

Consider some of the following questions:

  • How helpful was the internal communication? (e.g. company-wide email and team notifications)
  • Did the crisis team feel ready to act and respond? Were some team members more prepared than others?
  • Were the communication guidelines helpful in delivering timely and unified responses? If not, which sections need to be revised?
  • Allow team members to share their experiences as strategists, analysts, and content specialists. Perhaps you’ll need to change or create new roles.
  • How did the social media crisis intersect with offline coverage (if any)
  • Did specific employees rise to offer customer support faster than others?
  • Was there any time at which employees lacked sufficient information to provide 100% customer support?
  • Are there any new processes, templates, or guidelines that need to be created (in case of a future crisis)?
  • How impactful were the company’s responses and what will the look like moving forward?

14. Turn Crisis into an Opportunity

What’s worse than a crisis hitting your company?

Not learning from your failures…

Crises of all kinds serve as a great opportunity to guide future company growth and offer your team something to improve from.

So embrace the unfortunate event by looking at how you can:

  • Help others! Now that you’re an expert in the field, use the documented proof to create various customer-facing guides. Share your company’s insights on how to effectively handle and prevent a crisis with the help of social media.
  • Turn customer feedback into training kits. Go back to all the harsh or critical comments made by customers during the crisis, and consider using these to better train employees on delivering excellent customer support.
  • Repurpose Tweets into articles. Next time you run out of content ideas, collect the funniest Tweets and social updates (that were shared during the crisis) and turn them into a list article!

Put your Plan into Action!

Crises of any type could break out at any moment –and without a pre-made action plan, things can turn ugly, fast.

So hope for the best but ALWAYS prepare for the worst, right? That’s the mindset!

By following the steps in this guide, your various teams will be equipped to put down any serious fire with the power of social media.

How Can Oktopost Help?

With Oktopost’s complete social listening suite, you can monitor brand mentions, comments, and direct messages – all from one place – and assign them to relevant employees, ensuring personal and timely responses during a crisis. In case of an emergency, Oktopost also enables marketers to pause all social publishing activities, assign responsible users to handle crisis communications, and notify account users about the pending crisis. To learn more about how Oktopost’s powerful social engagement platform, schedule a demo here!

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