Social media

How to manage a social media crisis.


Following England’s heartbreaking loss in the belated Euro 2020 final, young lions Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were bombarded with racial abuse online, the fallout of which could change the way we use social media forever. Traction gained by the abusive posts, and opposing reactions, brought to light TV personality Katie Price’s recent petition for online accountability. Originally created to combat abuse suffered by her son, Price’s petition seeks to make ID verification a legal requirement when setting up a social media account. By ensuring each account is linked to a real person, law enforcement agencies would be better able to tackle online abuse, instilling long-overdue consequences for anonymous users.

This most recent onslaught of online discrimination made us think about brands, and how important it is to sensitively and swiftly manage crises online. Whether you’re receiving backlash over offence your brand has inadvertently caused, or simply commenting on an external crisis and putting your customers at ease, knowing what to say and how to say it is proven to increase brand loyalty and retain customers during times of uncertainty.

Here, we discuss what a social media crisis is, best management practises, and why it’s important to inform your customers as humanly as possible.

What is a social media crisis?
A social media crisis involves activity on social platforms which harms the reputation or running of your business. This might include:

  • Backlash from insensitive or discriminatory content from a team member’s or business’ social media account.
  • Public complaints from a disgruntled customer regarding your failure to provide a product or service to their satisfaction.
  • Misconduct that has been picked up – or gone ‘viral’ – and is being scrutinised online.

Social media posts can quickly gain traction and spiral out of control, making clear communication – at the earliest opportunity – vital for protecting your brand and assuring your audience.

Why is social media crisis management important?
Silence invites speculation during a crisis. For example, if footage of employee misconduct went viral and you didn’t respond or take action, your social media community – and potential customers who see the online backlash – might assume your brand doesn’t care about misconduct or even encourages it.

If backlash is handled poorly, or insensitively, the results can be damning for your business. Recently, Ryanair came under fire after a marketing campaign encouraged travellers to book flights in the early stages of the vaccine rollout, with the tagline ‘jab and go.’ Holidaymakers experienced a lot of confusion and uncertainty throughout the pandemic and the brand were labelled ‘irresponsible’ for suggesting they would all have received vaccine before their trips. Rather than apologising, Ryanair stood by its campaign until it was forced to stop running the ad.

Quick, transparent communication reassures customers, makes your position clear, and inspires trust in your brand at a vital time. During the pandemic, brands across the country used social media to keep their customers afloat on the accessibility of their services. Communication during a crisis of any kind is vital to inspiring faith from your customers and placing you as an authoritative, compassionate organisation.

How to communicate with your social media community
The first step to creating a social media communication plan is to formulate a company-wide response that reflects the values of the organisation while remaining sensitive and transparent to the community. In the event of a crisis, a poorly thought-out or rash response without the influence of relevant decision makers could make matters worse. Furthermore, once it’s out there, it can’t be taken back.

After a crisis meeting with key decision makers, the employee responsible for managing the social media account should craft a speedy response to get ahead of the backlash as much as possible. It might take more than one post, too. Negativity can spread quickly online and maintaining a bank of easily personalised messages might be the quickest and most effective way of communicating with multiple accounts. The right response could even turn a negative into a positive for your brand.

For example, if you receive a scathing tweet from a customer regarding an unfit product, a quick and compassionate response is your best course of action. Not only could it rectify the complaint, especially if coupled with a consolatory voucher or offer, but it demonstrates to your customers – existing and potential – that you take their opinions seriously and will do everything you can to ensure their expectations and the promised quality of your products are met. It is important to get on top of negative comments quickly to leave a good impression on your community and avoid the comments ‘snowballing’ and gaining traction.

While there are countless types of crises and ways to respond, speed, clarity and transparency are the pillars that will keep your brand propped up as trusted, authoritative and socially conscious. 

Best practises for social media communication

  • Devise well-conceived, company-wide responses that can be echoed by the whole organisation.
  • Engage with your community as quickly as possible.
  • Remain compassionate and ‘human’ to ensure people know they’re being heard.
  • Ensure consistency in communication at all times – highlighting the importance of first considering a company-wide response – while reacting to revelations or developments.
  • Review your responses and processes following a crisis to determine improvements for the future.

It takes time, experience and expertise to implement and execute a successful social media strategy, let alone manage a crisis. With a dedicated social media marketing agency, you can focus your time and energy into your business while we take care of content strategy and creation, community management, and brand awareness.


Written by Grace Lenihan
Planning pro and social strategist Grace knows exactly how to get people talking about your brand in the spaces that matter.