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Social Media Crisis Management: Build Your Strategy

21/02/ 2024   |   USource Team  |   Digital Marketing

Social media platforms have become indispensable tools for businesses seeking to amplify their brand presence and connect with audiences on a global scale. From engaging content and targeted advertising to fostering meaningful interactions, platforms like Facebook, X, and Instagram offer brands the opportunity to get their names out there and cultivate a loyal following.

It must be said, however, that social media is a double-edged sword. In the same way that these platforms allow brands to shine, they also have the propensity to magnify even the smallest missteps, potentially triggering full-blown crisis that can jeopardize a brand’s reputation.

In this article, we explore how social media crises erupt, and what strategies affected brands can take in the aftermath.

What is a social media crisis?

A social media crisis is any online activity that can damage your brand’s reputation, online and in real life. These pose a significant threat to its trustworthiness, and ultimately, its financial standing.

Social media crises stem from multiple scenarios.

False information: Content that brands put out that is later discovered to be inaccurate can quickly erode trust among its audience. This is especially dangerous for companies that deal with essential products and services, like medical care.

Today’s online space makes it so misinformation spreads like wildfire, so being associated with false information can significantly damage a brand’s reputation.

It’s not just in sensitive niches either. Even retail businesses can be called out on errors and misrepresentation.

Offensive content: Even if you didn’t mean to do so, posting content that offends individuals or specific groups can incite backlash and tarnish a brand’s image. These missteps can trigger widespread condemnation, requiring swift damage control efforts to keep things from getting too out of hand.

Defamatory content: Accusations hurled against your brand, such as allegations of impropriety and misconduct, can cause social media crises to happen. It doesn’t matter if these claims are baseless or rooted in truth—if left to spread, you leave your brand open to public scrutiny.

Negative reviews: Negative feedback posted online regarding a brand’s offline activities, such as subpar customer service or product defects, can have profound repercussions. With the proliferation of user-generated content, negative reviews accompanied by compelling visual evidence can inflict significant harm on a brand’s reputation and deter potential customers.

How does it affect your business?

When social media crises hit, the repercussions can be swift and severe, casting a shadow over your brand’s reputation and financial stability.

Here’s a closer look at how these crises can affect your business:

Word of mouth and/or social sharing can spread the mistake fast: Making a serious mistake can make waves online at lightning speed. Users share, repost, and comment on the mistake, reaching audiences far beyond your immediate circle of followers. This rapid dissemination can escalate the crisis and make damage control efforts all the more challenging.

Ruined reputation: Your brand’s reputation is its currency in the marketplace, and a social media crisis can devalue it in an instant. Negative publicity, whether due to sharing false information, offending a specific group, or facing allegations of misconduct, can erode trust and confidence in your brand.

Worst-case scenario, a tarnished reputation can result in canceled orders, decreased sales, and even widespread boycotts, which can directly affect your revenue and viability in the long run.

Financial fallout: Social media crises can be costly. Beyond the immediate loss of revenue from canceled orders and decreased sales, the cost of damage control efforts—such as hiring PR experts, running ad campaigns to repair your image, and investing in customer outreach—can further strain your finances. In extreme cases, the damage may be irreversible, leading some businesses to fold under the weight of the crisis.

Rebranding necessity: For businesses with severe reputation damage, rebranding may become a necessary survival strategy. Rebranding allows a company to distance itself from its tarnished image, repositioning itself in the marketplace, and rebuilding trust with consumers.

While rebranding can be a costly and time-consuming process, for some businesses, it may be the only way to regain a foothold in their industry and move forward after a social media crisis.

How do you manage a social media crisis?

Identify what caused the crisis: Ask your team: is it a problem or a crisis? If it’s a problem, usual customer service protocols will do. If it’s a crisis, start your social media crisis protocol.

Robust customer service: Providing excellent customer service is paramount during a crisis. This includes having a dedicated team available around the clock to address customer concerns promptly. The goal is to resolve issues before they escalate into full-blown crises. Remember, disgruntled customers often turn to social media to air their grievances.

Respond promptly on social media: Time is of the essence in crisis management. Responding promptly within 24 hours is crucial to demonstrate that you’re actively addressing the situation. Consider deleting offensive posts and issuing clarifications or apologies as necessary, but be careful not to exacerbate the situation.

Be sincere and authentic in your response: Transparency is key to rebuilding trust. Ensure your responses are sincere, acknowledge any mistakes made, and outline the steps being taken to rectify the situation.

Avoid shifting blame or making excuses. Saying things like, “We’re sorry, but…” and proceeding to explain the other factors that contributed to the fallout can often backfire and deal further damage to your brand.

Put all other scheduled posts on hold: During a crisis, halt any pre-scheduled social media content to avoid appearing insensitive or tone-deaf. Focus on resolving the immediate issue before resuming normal posting schedules.

Practice social listening: To prevent social media crises from arising in the future, observe and do your research on what triggers them. Stay on top of world events and monitor trends. When you want your brand hop on whatever bandwagon currently rolling, if not done right, can lead to disaster.

How social media management helps prevent and manage social media crisis

This is where outsourcing to a social media specialist or team shines. They prevent a crisis from happening in the first place. They know how to represent the brand’s personality and values, aligning each relevant and relatable post with the established brand voice. They also know how to toe the line between humor—a classic strategy to hook potential customers in—without going across into offensiveness.

When you outsource social media, you’d get a posting calendar to approve. You have control over your brand’s posts, until you’re confident your specialist has your voice down and can post the occasional or regular extempore post, especially when there are viral or specific current events relevant to your brand’s products, services, and values.

The more active you are in social media, the likelier you’ll get angry comments about this or that. Your social media team would know how to handle these comments with finesse. And they can also set up an SOP for your approval, so that you have a ready strategy even before it happens.

Balancing brand personality with sensitivity

Today’s digital space is incredibly interconnected. With just a few clicks, a message can reach millions of people across the globe in a matter of seconds. That also means that offensive or erroneous content gets magnified just as quickly. Social media specialists or teams tasked with managing a brand’s online presence recognize the critical importance of balancing brand personality with sensitivity.

Before coming up with posts, the specialist or the team thoroughly research and analyze previous and current trends, audience preferences, and potential sensitivities. They brush up on the lingo they should use with your brand, taking care not to misuse a word. They stay informed about cultural nuances and evolving social norms.

They don’t just stop at observing, however. Your team would also immerse themselves in online spaces your brand’s target audience might frequent. They may even actively participate in conversations to gain valuable insights into the language, tone, and topics that resonate with your followers.

Crisis management

When disaster strikes, and it’s looking like a real PR nightmare, your social media specialists have the training and experience to act swiftly and decisively to address the situation. They understand that in times of crisis, every minute counts, and a delayed response can make the problem worse. Social media specialists or teams are always prepared to spring into action at a moment’s notice.

They remain calm under pressure, thanks to their extensive training and experience to navigate the storm. This allows them to approach the situation with a clear mind and a steady hand, focusing on mitigating the damage and restoring trust in the brand. This helps them navigate replies with transparency, authenticity, and empathy. This show of understanding helps defuse tension and turn negative experiences into positive outcomes.

By addressing the concerns of your audience in a transparent, authentic, and empathetic manner, your social media specialists can help you weather even the most severe storms and emerge stronger on the other side.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” This age-old adage rings especially true for social media platforms, where brands wield immense influence and reach. While they offer immense potential for growth and engagement, they also turn small errors into major crises in the blink of an eye.

Brands must use social media responsibly by prioritizing honesty, transparency, and accountability in their online interactions. By staying vigilant, responding promptly to feedback, and upholding ethical standards, brands can build trust with their audience and thrive in the digital landscape.