Are You Ready for a Social Media Crisis?

Imagine you wake up and check your Twitter feed. You see that the trending hashtag calls for boycotting your brand, product, or service. Something like 10,000 tweets per hour are flooding the social media platform. Good morning! Are you ready for a social media crisis? You need to be because social media will turn against you and become your undoing if you don’t have a crisis management plan.

In last week’s article about how social media has changed political campaigns, we talked about how digitalization created a world where information moves across the globe blazingly fast. Within an hour, a misguided post can bring your stocks tumbling down. Your phone lines will blow up with customers demanding to cancel your services.

The same advantages that social media offers you in growing brand identity can work to your disadvantage if you make a mistake or fall victim to circumstances.

The Nike Social Media Crisis

On February 20, 2021, a star player from the Duke University basketball team injured his knee when his Nike shoe fell apart. The game was broadcast live on ESPN. Everyone watching immediately took to Twitter, primarily to send well wishes to the player. But, the Nike brand name was tarnished by all the publicity, not something you want. As a result, stocks fell 1.8% in trading on the NYSE the next day.

Nike responded immediately.

They released a statement expressing their concern for the health of the basketball player.

A team was dispatched to the Nike manufacturing site in China and Durham, N.C., where the game took place. About a month later, Nike gifted the player with new custom-made shoes. He helped repair the brand image by expressing his delight with the shoes and great appreciation for how the company responded.

The Nike shoe episode is an example of falling victim to circumstances. But, brands can also find themselves facing a social media crisis of their own doing.

Oh Polly Fashion Social Media Crisis

During the coronavirus pandemic, a U.K. fashion retailer, Oh Polly Fashion, decided to run a competition on social media in support of frontline workers. The prize was a care package, a new outfit, and an invitation to a virtual event capping the competition.

A nurse from Glasgow won the competition, but she couldn’t attend the virtual event because she needed to work a 12-hour shift at the hospital. Oh Polly Fashion informed her that she wouldn’t receive the care package or new outfit despite winning the competition. The winner had to attend the virtual event. Imagine her reaction!

She immediately took to social media, tweeting:

“Imagine entering an Oh Polly competition for NHS workers and winning, but can’t participate due to working a 12 shift on Friday on the frontline. And then being told you can’t claim the care package and outfit because you’re unable to be on the video call.”

Social media blew up with her tweet receiving more than 14,000 likes and hundreds of responses expressing disappointment in the brand.

social media crisis

Social Listening and Media Monitoring

The rapid dissemination of information across social media channels worldwide can take a minor issue and turn it into a PR disaster. This is one reason you must track and manage what’s being said about your brand. Social listening tools can help you with this.

You’ll also want to monitor social sentiment—how consumers feel about your brand product and services. If you see a change in opinion, it’s time to dig into your social listening streams to discover the cause.

If you’re a small business or solopreneur, you can do it yourself by setting up Google alerts. Monitor your brand name, your name and key team members, and the keywords you rank for.

However, you need a social media crisis plan to protect yourself from potential PR disasters that play out on social media. You don’t want to wait until disaster strikes and then try to wing your way out of it.

Before the Crisis Hits

Write a Social Media Policy

  • Write a set of guidelines and rules for all staff to follow.
  • Decide who can send messages.
  • Establish a team responsible for reviewing all social media posts.
  • Will employees be allowed to send out random tweets in reaction to world events?
  • Make sure all employees are familiar with the guidelines.

Establish What Will be Considered a Crisis and What’s a Complaint

“To be considered a crisis, there need to be enough people with the same complaint that it creates a negative change in the perception of your brand.” Matthew Wingar, social media marketer.

Designate Your Social Media Crisis Response Team

Ideally, your crisis response team should include one person from leadership, customer service, marketing, and sales. During a crisis, you want to react with a single voice. Allowing too many people to get involved can muddle the message or worsen things.

  • Be sure all employees know who is designated for the task.
  • Your response team needs to be prepared to spring into action when the crisis is revealed.
  • What happens if a problem occurs during the holidays? You can’t afford to wait until everyone returns to the office.

Identify Your Key Brand Message

Social media is a tool to build brand awareness, reach out to organic audiences, massage the relationship with your consumers, and establish thought leadership or excellence in your industry.

Social media posts are also opportunities for you to express your brand’s social activism in agreed-upon areas. However, your social activism needs to be tied to your brand and story.

  • Identify your key brand message. Then, build everything else around it.
  • Before responding to an event, think about how it might impact your brand image and current consumer base.
  • You want social media to help you expand your reach, not diminish it.
  • And remember, you can make a mistake in a second. It can take months to repair the damage.

After It Hits

Stop All Scheduled Posts

When a crisis hits, pause all scheduled posts. A post that ignores the issue could make it seem that you are insensitive. In addition, no one will know that it was scheduled for automatic posting.

Take a Deep Breath

You’re not the first brand to face a social media crisis. Most come through the fire with an improved image and relationship with their consumers. Remaining calm and centered is critical to your ability to develop the appropriate response.

Be careful not to react to the emotions being expressed, no matter how unfair they might be. And under no circumstances get into an argument or criticize those posting comments.

Respond Right Away

78% of people who complain to a brand via Twitter expect a response within an hour.

Get your crafted response message out across your social media channels as soon as possible. Let your audience know you’re aware of the issue and take immediate steps to address it. Convey your concern for your audience (not for your brand).

Don’t Delete Critical Comments.

Screen capture enables internet users to take a snapshot of negative posts before posters delete them. Of course, you’ll be called out for it.

Back in the spring of 2017, United Airlines faced a PR disaster. The airline needed to get passengers off an overbooked flight. A video surfaced of them violently dragging a man through the aisles and off the plane. The United CEO responded immediately by tweeting an apology. However, his choice of words only fueled the fire.

“I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

To make matters worse, people accused United of deleting messages on social media channels. People took to Twitter to state that United was deleting their negative tweets. By the time United finally arrived with a better social media crisis response, consumer confidence had already plunged. Customers turned to alternative airlines, which was good news for competing brands.

Engage With Your Consumers

Social media should serve as a two-way street to develop and deepen your relationship with your consumers. It’s one of the primary purposes of all your hard work. Be sure to respond to all negative comments, criticisms, or posts regarding poor customer service or disappointment in the product or service you provide. People tend to take to social media to vent frustration or anger. This sentiment can spread like wildfire. Addressing these minor tweets and SM posts will prevent the “frustration” from becoming a full-scale brand disaster.


Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But you can avoid a social media crisis.

  • use social listening tools
  • implement a crisis response plan
  • stay on message
  • responding immediately
  • avoid arguments and be sensitive to your consumers.

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