Are you prepared for a social media crisis? Here’s 7 tips you need

We all know the feeling.

Your phone pings, then again… and again… something has happened.

Twitter is “blowing up” says the voice on the other end of the line. Five minutes later; “it’s all over Facebook”. The on-call Press Officer rings next; local media want a response to the hundreds of comments on Twitter.

So, what’s your next move?

If you’re asking this question now, it’s too late.

When it comes to managing an emerging crisis on social media, preparation is key. So how do you prepare for a crisis breaking on social media? Here’s 7 tips to help you be better prepared the next time “Twitter blows up”.

1. Define what a crisis means for you

A spike in mean tweets about your brand does not (always) constitute a crisis. However, a sudden and sustained increase in negative mentions across several channels should tell you it’s time to activate crisis mode.

You know what’s normal and what’s not. If you don’t, speak to your teams managing your social channels. Trust me, they’ll know the difference.

Once you’ve identified what constitutes normal, write it down. Go into as much detail as possible. Use examples and be specific. Sometimes its volume based i.e. x negative tweets about a single issue in x minutes, other times it’s based on where those tweets are coming from or what/who they relate to.

2. Have a policy in place

The majority of social media crises originate from within an organisation. A rouge tweet, Facebook post or ill-informed customer response from an employee managing your feeds, can cause serious problems for organisations and do real damage to your reputation.

But don’t worry. Generally, these are the easiest crises to avoid, if you’re prepared, and have a clear set of guidelines for your staff to follow when posting on social media. So, what should a clear set of guidelines cover? Well, that depends on the size and type of the business, but generally make sure you include:

  • A very clear tone of voice - how you expect your staff to talk to and engage with customers on the channels you own
  • A procedure to follow when things start to go wrong, when they spot something isn’t right, or when conversations with customers start to escalate
  • A list of do’s and don’ts – what you staff should and should not say to customers
  • A very simple overview of why you’re on social media and what the purpose of their role is.
     

Creating guidelines is tough. It makes you reflect on what your organisation stands for. Fundamentally it forces you to define how you want to treat your customers. Without it, you’re asking for trouble.

3. Protect your accounts at all times

Do you know the passwords for all your social media accounts? Does your Social Media Manager? Where are they kept? Can you access them quickly, remotely and while on the move?

What about your on-call Press Officer who needs to send a reactive statement via multiple channels at short notice out of hours?

My best advice is, bypass these potential pitfalls by using a centralised social media management system. It means no one needs to know your passwords so, crucially, no one knows your passwords.  Rouge employees’ access to social media can be shut down at the touch of a button and you can post quickly to multiple channels at once. When a crisis happens, you need to move quickly, not waste time hunting for out of date passwords on an excel sheet you can only access from your office PC.

4. Get serious about being prepared - introduce a social listening program

It’s impossible to manage a social media crisis you can’t find. Identifying and being alerted to emerging issues on social early, can help you stop an issue becoming a crisis. It gives you more time to plan, to get ahead and stop a crisis before it spirals out of control.

Monitoring brand mentions, keywords and known issues can give you advanced warning of when things start to take a turn for the worse. Combined with social sentiment measurement (how people are feeling about your brand), social listening alerts you in real-time when a crisis is forming. It is a powerful tool in your arsenal for preparing for when things go wrong and one of the best investments a modern business can make.

5. Map (and rehearse) your crisis management process

What are the first three steps you’ll take when you alerted to an emerging crisis on social? If you can answer this question, well done, you’re ahead of most.

Create a crisis management flowchart that shows who should be contacted in different scenarios and at what level of crisis. Detail phone numbers, email address and any other ways of contacting the relevant people. Better yet, create a crisis management WhatsApp group. Or create a dedicated escalation team if you use a centralised social media management system.

If you can, prepare a set of pre-written responses you can approve in advance for the most common crises you expect to face. Put these somewhere accessible and create a separate process of how, when and on what authority these can be used.

Finally, rehearse, run crisis simulations and test your process until it feels right. 

6. Train your people

This one seems so simple but so many people overlook it.

You’ve spent a lot time getting your business prepared. You’ve protected your passwords, created a social listening program, mapped your management processes. Everything is written down. You’re ready. But do the people managing your channels understand it?

Make the time to train everyone involved - not just on the parts they have to execute – on the whole process. One session isn’t enough. Little and often is the best way until people know it and it becomes second nature to them.
Of all the advice listed here, this is the most important. Please, train your people properly.

7. Review, improve, repeat…

If you’ve been through a crisis, you need to make time to learn some lessons. What worked? What didn’t? Whether it was an effective response or not, there is a lot you can learn.

If something worked well, great, how can you replicate it to strengthen your plan? If it didn’t work, why not, what needs to change and what action do you need to take now so the next time you’re better prepared?
I’ve worked with so many people who know exactly what slows them down during a crisis but fail to do take action. People say: “it’s always x, y or z that causes problems when this happens". Yet they never act. Why? Once a crisis is over it’s back to work and daily life resumes. Understandable, but you need to make the time (or bring in someone to help) to fix known issues.


Preparation for a social crisis is never a one-time job. It should be an ongoing process. I’ve never come across a crisis plan that can’t be improved.

Preparation takes time, commitment and, in some cases, investment. From my experience, when something kicks off and you know how to handle it, it’s the best time and investment you’ll ever make.

If you feel like you need a helping hand or want some advice on what we’ve covered, get in touch. We’re here to help in these situations. It’s what we do