Preparing for a social media crisis - The Social Element
crisis stress

Preparing for a social media crisis

This week, we ran a crisis simulation for members of The Marketing Society, in conjunction with our sister company, Polpeo. It led to some fascinating discussions about how different organisations might fare if they were to go through their own crisis. 

The idea behind a crisis simulation is to rehearse how you might communicate to protect your brand’s reputation during an unfolding crisis. It’s a great way to test out different responses, and to stress-test your social media crisis plans. 

Every organisation has its own approach to dealing with a crisis, and we often find that organisations will think about traditional media ahead of social media. And yet social media is often the early warning system for a breaking crisis. Listening to what people are saying on social media can help you spot an issue, and in some cases act quickly enough to prevent the crisis in the first place. 

Some situations, though, you can’t predict or prevent. And how you respond will depend on your brand values, the context of the situation and the seriousness of the crisis. 

Here are some of the discussion points that were raised in the simulation this morning. 

When is the right time to engage on social media?

Verifying the facts of a crisis is critical, and jumping in based on social media speculation alone is never the right thing to do. People will look to you for the truth, and for trusted information to help them deal with and understand the crisis situation. Once you have verified the facts, provide regular public updates so people are informed about everything you are doing to resolve it. 

How do you handle the volume of social media posts you’ll receive in a crisis? 

You don’t have to answer every comment on social media. We advise our clients to triage posts, so you respond to those most affected by the crisis – genuine customers, employees and people who need information – and the people who will influence them. Ignore people who are posting with malicious intent and those jumping on the bandwagon. It is also worth training people within your organisation to handle the huge spike in volume, or having an external resource that you can scale up as needed. 

Do you engage with individuals or post a broadcast statement to your social media channels?

This will depend on the situation, and may vary depending on the type of crisis, and its geographic spread. It’s important to have a social media channels policy so you‘re ready to answer genuine customer queries and filter out social media posts that are just noise. Monitor for what’s being said about the crisis – the latest information about the crisis should always come from you, not from anyone outside your organisation. 

Communicate internally and externally.

Don’t forget to communicate with your employees at the same time (or before) you talk to media or customers. They need to hear from you, just as much as your customers, suppliers and partners. Include how you’ll do this in your crisis plans – and have a strategy for dealing with leaks, or employees discussing the issue publically on social media channels. No matter how good your social media policy is for employees, prepare for internal documents and discussions to be made public. 

Assign clearly-defined roles in advance. 

As part of your crisis planning, you should already know exactly what part you’ll play during the crisis, who is responsible for leading the team, and who is the ultimate decision maker. Every crisis team should have a strong leader to pull all the teams together, but who should also listen to their teams and make decisions. 

Practise communicating on social media in a crisis.

It’s critical to have a plan – but unless you’ve rehearsed it, you won’t know how it will stand up to the pressure of a real crisis. It’s vital to practise with the crisis team and everyone involved so they know what is expected of them during a crisis. The more you practise, the more instinctive it becomes.

Remember the importance of tone of voice.

A crisis can change how a company operates, and will certainly shape its future reputation, so the tone with which you communicate matters. If you have genuine empathy for those people who are affected, you are more likely to be heard and trusted by your audience. 

Should you say sorry?  

The use of the ‘S‘ word (sorry) always leads to big debates between marketing teams and legal teams. Whether you use it or not, you need to know what you are saying sorry for, and what your liability might be. Sometimes, though, saying sorry can make a bad situation slightly better, and calm a situation. 

Every organisation can prepare for a crisis breaking on social media, through scenario planning, risk assessment, a solid communications plan, prepared messages, and a social channels policy to know where and how to engage your audience. All this can be rigorously tested with regular simulations. 


To learn more about how to prepare for a breaking crisis, see our social media crisis management services, and do get in touch.
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