Whether it’s an earthquake, an employee flying off the handle, a local news event or a mis-tweeted image—When it comes to social, a crisis can be any unplanned incident that will significantly impact the regular distribution of your content and messaging.

Social’s low barrier to entry and instant gratification, topped with the anonymity of users, make it a primary landing place for customer feedback, complaints and emotion.

As brand managers, it’s up to you to prepare your social channels as a primary point of contact.

Our philosophy: Be ready, be flexible and be communicative.


Types of “Crises” to Anticipate

Crises are inevitable, and they’re unpredictable.

Some of the most common include:

  • Natural Disaster: Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, wildfires in California, New England blizzards, tornadoes and more. Think through natural disasters that could impact your market areas, and if you’re a retailer, keep a close watch on any stores that could be impacted.
  • National Tragedy: We’re living in some dark times, so it’s important to be aware of what’s happening in the news. Mass shootings, the passing of notable people, accidents, etc., are all potential opportunities for brands to misstep or appear insensitive.
  • PR Problems: Any time your brand’s crisis PR team is involved, it’s time to be awake on social. Whether it’s product recalls, a publicized human resources issue or general protests/offense taken toward your brand, know that the first line of defense is on social.


Preventative Measures: How You Can Be Prepared

Don’t worry! You might not know what’s coming or when it’ll arrive, but there are some basic precautions you can take to make sure when something does happen, your social brand is ready:

Keep your pages up-to-date.

    • Even on profiles where you’re not active, make sure you’ve got basic information up-to-date. This includes things like contact information, house rules, page hours, privacy settings, etc.
    • You’re already monitoring your channels (get some extra pointers on community management here), but make sure that your pages are regularly cleaned up (removal of outdated information, checking for errors, adding updates to posts).

  • Lock up your passwords, and keep a close eye on your page administrators. The fewer people with passwords and the fewer administrators, the better. Have a known system in place for giving access to users.

Develop an internal contact and approval system.

  • Know the chain of command in different types of crises. The last thing you want to be doing is figuring out if Steve from PR needs to approve something before you speak up (or stay silent). We’d recommend having a matrix to determine who needs to weigh in based on level of severity.
  • Depending on the type of crisis, people may rely on the brand for information. For example, which stores are operating and when are they open post-hurricane? Figure out what your primary channel for updates will be, and make that known.
  • Have an updated, easily shareable document with basic contact information for all accountable team members. More often than not, crises don’t hit during business hours.

Consider these questions:

  • What is the decision making tree throughout this crisis?
  • Who are our points of contact?
  • Who must approve anything we do?
  • How has the public affairs/PR team weighed in? Can we see their plans or talk with them about how to best support?
  • What assets/information are being communicated/gathered?

Know your brand’s place.

  • As jaded as we may be, social media is still a place for humans to connect. In the face of national tragedy, ask yourself this: Would it feel natural to be talking to an anonymous brand at this point in time about this topic? Use this to help guide whether your brand speaks out about national tragedies on social media.
  • When it comes to PR crises, advise on behalf of the community. What would you, a loyal brand follower, want this brand to say or do? Does your brand have a particular attachment to the subject or persons involved, etc? Be thoughtful about your choices on platform.


Reactive Measures: How to Mitigate Effectively 

When something happens, you’ll need to make a decision quickly, thoughtfully and collaboratively.

Use these questions as a guide to determine a course of action:

  • What’s the brand’s role in this?
  • How is our brand impacted by what’s happening?
  • How is this impacting our most loyal fans? What about those who are in the awareness stage?
  • How are people reacting online? Is there mourning, discussion, anger, etc.?
  • What information do we need to get out there? How often will it need to be updated?
  • What would happen if we didn’t say anything on social media? Would it go unnoticed?

Create a form that addresses the above questions, and from those insights create an informed communications strategy or plan of attack. An impulsive reaction will always do more damage than an informed reaction. Even if your audience is pressing for a quick response, do your best to take enough time to make a smart, strategic decision.

Remember: Social is the closest touch point to the consumer. No matter what you decide, make sure there’s a way to track your decision. Set up a dashboard of sorts so there can be easy data pulls throughout the event, and provide updates as needed.

Be ready, be flexible and be communicative — you’ll do great!