In today’s digital era, where information travels at the speed of light, the role of social media management in handling crises and controversies cannot be overstated.

In the worst-case scenario, a scandal, problem, or crisis will mushroom quickly, spreading through social media and making it exceptionally hard to counter misinformation, falsehoods, and exaggeration. Consider the recent right-wing orchestrated campaign against Bud Light’s Dylan Mulvaney product tie-in.

In the best-case scenario, you can act quickly to correct misconceptions or address controversies, even potentially turning the situation to a brand’s advantage. Consider, for example, KFC’s famous chicken shortage in 2018. KFC quickly apologized, made light of the situation, and kept customers informed about their supply chain issues.

Social media crisis management refers to the process of identifying and dealing with threats to a company’s reputation that emerge on social media. This article explores the anatomy of a social media crisis, its impact, and strategies for effective management.

The Anatomy of a Social Media Crisis

Let’s look in a little more depth at how a social media crisis develops, what exacerbates it, and what can be done to counter such occurrences.

Triggers and Catalysts

Various factors can escalate situations into crises on social media. These include:

Miscommunication or Controversial Content

Misinterpreted messages or controversial content can rapidly escalate into a crisis. For instance, a brand’s poorly worded tweet might be misconstrued, leading to widespread outrage.

Sometimes, well-meaning attempts to be inclusive (such as the Dylan Mulvaney Bud Light case) can offend as many people as they please. This is often due to a mismatch between the well-meaning intentions of the brand’s marketing team and the opinions and preferences of consumers.

It’s rarely worth deliberately courting controversy, but once it has happened, a certain amount of firefighting becomes inevitable.

Customer Complaints and Service Issues

Unresolved customer issues can amplify on social media platforms. A single complaint can snowball into a significant crisis if not addressed promptly.

Sentiment analysis can be used to track common complaints or gripes about a product, service or brand, allowing companies to address issues promptly. Where complaints are made publicly, it’s acceptable to address these publicly using the same social media outlet. However, as we’ll see, there is a strict protocol for doing so successfully.

For now, there’s a sobering statistic: 73% of customers will gladly switch to a competitor when they suffer unresolved customer support issues, according to a Zendesk study.

Viral Content Backlash

Harmless content can suddenly turn controversial or offensive, triggering a backlash. This often happens when a piece of content goes viral for the wrong reasons, catching the brand off-guard.

While making bold statements and risqué jokes might increase your brand’s chances of going viral, it can backfire.

Consider the Kendal Jenner-starring Pepsi ad, in which the influencer gave the drink to a police officer at a protest. The campaign, intended to promote peace and unity, sparked a backlash when it was seen to be minimizing the importance of peaceful protest with crass commercialization.

Jumping on social justice topics can backfire if it is done without due care and attention, and brands should expect a level of backlash to even the mildest-seeming social justice campaigns. How they then deal with such issues can make all the difference between zeitgeist-surfing success and ignominious failure.

Impact on Brand Reputation and Consumer Trust

A badly-addressed crisis on social media can have a range of negative consequences for businesses. These fall under the umbrella of reputational damage. Let’s break this concept down a little.

Reputational Damage

The long-term implications of a social media crisis can significantly affect brand perception. A mishandled crisis may lead to a loss of brand loyalty and trust.

Although brand loyalty is becoming a rarer commodity than it once was, according to Forbes, it is still worth nurturing. Trust is a consequence of consistently applied messaging and quality control. Let either of those two elements slip, and trust is eroded.

In 2018, H&M made a massive misjudgment with its advertising by depicting a child’s hoodie carrying the motto “coolest monkey in the jungle” and using a small black boy to model it. Although the motto was intended to play on the nicknames parents often give to their kids, the ad had echoes of ancient racist tropes and backfired significantly.

Outraged viewers of this ad had lost trust in this formerly tasteful brand’s judgement and acumen.

Spread and Velocity of Information

The speed at which information spreads in the digital realm is staggering. Shares, reposts, and viral algorithms play a crucial role in amplifying issues.

A major component of the problem of reputational damage is the sheer speed with which it can spread. As social media users share, repost, and comment upon brand errors, there can be an exponential explosion in negative coverage and customer sentiment.

Having strategies to address problems the instant they are noticed is essential to prevent the spread of reputational damage and limit its detrimental effect.

Consumer Response and Sentiment

During a crisis, consumer reactions can range from anger and disappointment to support. Such responses significantly impact public sentiment and influence the crisis resolution process.

Not only are brands required to address negative comments made about their posts or products, but it can be tempting to address second and third-order responses, where these significantly contribute to the bad press.

Even with the clever use of AI and automation, it can be impractical to respond to every negative comment. However, with the right tools, it is at least possible to identify significant nodes of customer influence and address a response to those vital interactions.

Preparing for a Crisis

Building a crisis management plan is crucial. This involves social media monitoring and early detection to pre-empt potential crises.

Reputational damage can be mitigated if you have an arsenal of possible responses at your fingertips. These can include generic pre-written responses to common complaints or personalized ones, much of them automated by your social media management platform.

You can also run regular rounds of social media monitoring, using sentiment analysis to spot problematic brand mentions and offer a quick ameliorative response. Addressing a customer concern within a matter of minutes can work wonders to help staunch the flow of reputational damage.

Crisis Response Strategies

There is a generic six-step strategy you can follow to minimize the impact of social media crises. Here it is in brief:

1: Take Immediate Action

When a crisis emerges, the first steps include timely and transparent communication. A quick response can prevent the situation from escalating. Locate the source of the crisis and focus efforts there.

2: Craft a Response

Responses should be tailored to the nature of the specific crisis. The dos and don’ts of crisis communication are essential to keep in mind to avoid further damage.

3: Accept Liability

Except where it is legally dangerous to do so, brands should accept complaints as read and not argue back with customers. Consumer anger can be significantly diminished with a “sorry.”

4: Offer Reparation

Where possible, offer aggrieved customers money off, discount codes, or some other form of reparation for mistakes made. At the very least, offer to address the specific complaint.

5: Express a Desire to Change

If there is evidence of a process failure, then state clearly that you intend to address and repair that procedure. Trust is enhanced when brands go on record with a desire to change.

6: Accept that you Cannot Please Everyone

No matter what you do, you won’t be able to please all complaints, and it is futile to keep trying. Once you have followed the steps outlined above, you will have to withdraw and let things calm down. Or, to put it another way, in common parlance, don’t feed the trolls!

The Role of Social Media Management in Crisis Prevention

Good social media management mitigates reputational damage before it occurs. It allows you to keep a wary eye on your brand’s identity, messaging, and the public perceptions it generates.

Proactive Engagement Strategies

Here are three key strategies to follow to improve your social media management and consumer listening:

1: Monitor social media platforms for early signs of potential issues. Do this manually on a regular basis to keep your finger on the pulse of what people are saying.

2: Use social listening tools to track brand mentions, sentiment, and industry trends. This pairs algorithmic quantity with human analytic quality.

3: Build a community to support your brand, choosing the most appropriate social media channel for your target demographic (i.e., Facebook for older consumers; TikTok for Gen-Z ones).

Subscribers and followers are key – they can become influencers and watchdogs for your brand, and they’ll tell you when something is wrong without feeling the need to punish you for it.

For an inspiring example, check out Red Bull’s 49 million Facebook followers!

Creating a Positive Online Presence

Consistent brand messaging and transparency are essential for building trust and loyalty among your audience. Make sure your values are accurately depicted in the content you create and share. Ensure your content management and social media marketing teams are working from strict guides to brand identity, values, and aspirations.

If you can do some social good along the way, seize that opportunity. Addressing global poverty or climate change are two areas where there’s much to be done, with minimal likelihood of a backlash.

Preparedness is key to rapid and successful social media crisis management

Effective social media management in crisis situations involves preparedness, prompt response, and strategic communication. Brands must prioritize crisis preparedness and speedy response to safeguard their reputation and maintain consumer trust.

Visit Socialistics for more insights into how to conduct effective and efficient social media management. Check out our services page to find out how we can help you curate your brand presence online.

Get in touch if you have any questions about social media crisis management or social media brand presence in general.