How to Manage a Social Media Crisis & Design a
In today‟s 24/7 world, social media enables
organizations to communicate with millions of
customers across the globe in real-time. For
customers, this means they now have the power to
either appreciate something or vent their issues in a
very public space. What does this mean for marketers?
With so much going on, a social media fiasco is
sometimes unavoidable and unpredictable, signaling
the need for a robust crisis management plan.
Although most marketers have already incorporated
social media into their marketing mix and are seeing
great results, some of them have no strategic social
media communications plan in place. According to the
2010 Digital Brand Expressions Social Media survey:
52% companies do not have a social media
crisis communications plan.
41% said that they were insured against a
possible social media crisis.
A whopping 88% felt that it was important to
have a strategic social media communications plan in place.
While every company has its critics and unhappy customers, a smart marketer will always have a recovery plan to
prevent a social media disaster from snowballing. As a marketer, you can never fully control what your customers say
about your brand in the digital space; however, preparing yourself for a social media crisis will ensure you are not
caught off guard. Here are some points to focus on while designing a crisis communications plan:
Identify the Crisis:
Before proceeding to the „what should I do„ stage, it is essential to a)fully understand the situation b) find out if
the people who are talking about your brand are high influencers c) what is the medium being used and d) how is
it affecting your company‟s image. This can be best done by monitoring your brand on social media. By using
social media monitoring tools such as brand monitor, you can also:
o Listen to what your customers are saying.
o Analyze the general sentiment pertaining to
the issue (is it leaning towards negative or are
people neutral in their opinion).
o Chalk up the appropriate escalation plan.
o Engage industry influencers to defend your
brand if necessary: Online users tend to trust
the influencers more than company officials.
After tracking your influencers, the next step
involves engaging with them to solve the
The key purpose of crisis identification at an early stage via
media monitoring is to be able to respond quickly. Keep in
mind, in the digital space, your response time needs to be very quick. For instance, United Airlines‟ delayed
response to singer Dave Carroll‟s YouTube complaint video reportedly cost the airline a 10% drop in its share
price. Despite 50,000 views on YouTube, United responded by saying “We‟re working to make what happened
right.” According to industry experts, if a solid social media crisis management plan been in place, the airlines
could have responded faster, saving the company from the loss and reputation damage.
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The simplest way to win back customers‟ trust is by being straightforward and coming clean. While it is easy to
get defensive or hide behind „no comment‟, this will not prevent fans and followers from continuing to talk about
your brand. We believe that the first step to fixing a social media crisis is to admit it; it gives a humane touch. As
discussed earlier, using influencers to diffuse a situation is a good first step; however, by getting someone
relevant and important such as company Presidents and CEOs to respond is a smart move. Although today‟s CEOs
are no longer social media shy, a recent survey by public relations agency Weber Shandwick shows that they have
some catching up to do. According to the survey:
o 64% of CEOs are not using social media; only 36%
have a social media presence.
o 93% of them continue to depend on traditional
methods to communicate with external audiences.
o Many CEOs are in the 40-60 demographic, making
them less social media savvy.
Why We Recommend Company Heads Get Involved
Several case studies involving important company officials who
have successfully fixed a social media PR disaster show that:
o Company heads engaging with unhappy customers wield high influence in the social media space.
o Two-way dialogues involving important company officials send out a strong message that „we
understand and apologize„.
o CEOs owning up to an oversight and promising to fix it shows that the company cares.
o By rapidly responding to a crisis through blogs, videos or other social platforms, CEOs dispel the myth
of being „corporate executives sitting behind desks‟.
o Customers want to hear from a person who is real and is being honest and forthright with them.
Dominos‟ quick, direct and personal response to a social
media crisis involving its employees is the perfect example of
how a company should handle emergency situations in the
digital space. When two of its former employees uploaded
YouTube videos of themselves doing unseemly things to food,
customers and fans of the pizza giant started to question the
hygiene standards that were being followed. Besides
registering millions of views on YouTube, the video showed up
in five out of 12 Google searches for “Dominos”. The company
wasted no time in posting its response. The crisis management
team at Dominos decided to tackle the situation by uploading
their own YouTube video that featured their President; a wise
move, for a press release explaining the situation would have
only escalated the situation further. Instead of insisting that
the video had nothing to do with the company‟s hygiene
policy, the President, J. Patrick Doyle, said that he was as
‟sickened‟ as the customers and promised to shut the store
and clean it completely. What restored customers‟ faith in Dominos was the President‟s honesty and the fact that
he thanked customers for “sticking with us”.
Your customers know that everyone makes mistakes once in a while; what‟s more important to them is to know
how you are going to fix it. The key to handling a situation effectively is to have open, consistent flow of
Restoring your Reputation:
Although prevention is the best solution to manage a crisis, it is very natural for occasional slip-ups to happen.
Restoring your company‟s image after a social media disaster is crucial for getting back in the business. While it is
true that a slip-up can impact customers‟ perception, here are some suggestions to help revive your brand‟s image
in the digital space:
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o Have Seasoned Social Media Experts Handle a Crisis: Having a junior intern handle your social media
activities simply because „they get social media‟ may not always be the best approach. A well assembled
social media disaster management team, comprising of a community manager, a PR and a senior
management representative, ensures that your company is always prepared to successfully handle an
unforeseen situation. Besides managing large amount of content and conversations online, the disaster
management team will know a) when to respond b) what to say c) how much to say and d) when to remain
silent. Social media experts know how to handle crisis without breaking sweat; and this is vital for
restoring your company‟s image online.
o Turn Crisis into Opportunity: Yes! A PR crisis can be converted into
positive online buzz. The most apt example in this case involves fashion
retailer Gap and how the company turned its logo debacle into a social
media opportunity. Instead of playing the blame game after their own
version was severely criticized across Facebook and Twitter, Gap smartly
decided to offer its fans the chance to redesign its logo online. By doing
this, the company a) acknowledged the problem b) made customers feel involved c) shifted the focus from
the actual issue by converting it into an exciting social media campaign and d) managed to improve its
o Talk about it: By apologizing on Facebook or tweeting that you‟re sorry, you have managed to mollify
disgruntled fans; what next? Believe it or not, your customers want to hear what happened. Discussing the
„what‟ and „how‟ of the situation shows that the PR representatives and social media experts are doing
more than just their job. Using a personal, human voice when communicating via social media channels
re-establishes trust with customers, making them believe that your company has more than just an
organizational presence. Talking about an issue not only promotes trust and commitment, but also leads
to a favorable brand image.
We believe that social media is a great platform for connecting with prospects and customers on a personal level; the
flip-side though, is that networking channels also attract their share of online protests, customer complaints and
negative feedback. In such cases, the best line of defense for online marketers is to design a comprehensive social
media policy and crisis management plan. This not only prepares your company for any outward incidents, but also
helps effectively respond to potential flare-ups. However, this does not mean you should live your social efforts in
fear. A crisis management plan is like a safety net; it ensures that your company is insured against a PR meltdown
In today‟s customer-driven world, fans have demonstrated greater ownership over social media. Smart marketers who
have understood this know that they have little control over how their brands are perceived or what is being discussed
about them in the digital space. As the above studies indicate, although a greater percentage of marketers do not
have a social media communications plan in place, a majority of them are willing to consider developing one in the
future. As quoted by Jeremiah Owyang, crisis planning helps you „plan and practice for the worst, yet live for the
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Position2 is a Search and Social Media Marketing firm that delivers continuous growth for our clients using our
proprietary “Surround and Intent” Marketing Methodology, delivered by our products. Our proprietary methodology is
a result of years of experience in working with diverse clients to deliver customer acquisition goals through search
engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing (SMM), and Pay Per Click (PPC) and online media advertising.
Position2 was founded in 2006 with funding from Accel Venture Partners, and has offices in Palo Alto, Bangalore and
Mumbai. Position2 is a certified agency with Google, Yahoo, Bing and is also part of the Google Adwords advisory
Position2's flagship product is Position2 Brand MonitorTM, a platform that allows users to listen, discover and engage
with social media conversations in real time. With a team of over 100 professionals, Position 2 also provides expertise
in online marketing solutions: SEO, PPC, Media and Advertising.
Position2 works with leading global brands:
This article is also available on the Position2 Blog: http://blog.position2.com.
For more information, visit http://brandmonitor.position2.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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