5 ways brand managers can avoid a social media crisis

Though online fires are common, PR and marketing pros can quell the flames with the following tips. 


This piece originally ran on PR Daily in February 2015. The online world can—and often does—turn social media missteps into full-blown catastrophes in a matter of minutes.

Occasionally, it seems like digital consumers can take offense to anything:

However, brand managers can navigate the sometimes-rocky seas of online interaction and avoid social media crises of their own by following these suggestions:

1. Vigilantly monitor social media feeds.

Social media never sleeps. It is essential for brands to have someone monitoring social media at all times—day and night, holidays and weekends.

Depending on the brand, employee coverage across social media profiles doesn’t have to be extensive. However, the team must be aware of any and all news or trends that could affect the brand, and ready to act if the need arises.

Not only will continual social media monitoring give you great insights into the minds of your consumers, it will also alert you to any mistakes, such as a adversely received tweet, or security issues, such as a hacker’s takeover of a brand account. Burger King brand managers were quick to respond when its Twitter account was taken over; that response gave the brand a reputational boost on social media.

2. Be aware of audience and context.

Nationwide’s Super Bowl ad has everyone talking, but they’re not saying good things.

Though some thought the insurance company’s ad was memorable and served as a powerful cautionary tale, many more thought the Super Bowl was poor timing for a commercial with such sensitive subject matter.

Along with context and timing, keeping consumers in mind is important when sharing and interacting online.

PR and marketing pros know messages go further when you speak directly to the interests of your audience, but keeping those interests in mind can also help you avoid a social media brouhaha. After all, brand managers never want to offend loyal customers.

3. Create and adhere to employee social media policies.

Many online mistakes happen because of the actions of a single employee (or several, in Comcast’s case), but those mistakes can reflect badly on the entire brand.

That’s not to say employees shouldn’t be allowed to use social media. Often, they’re the best storytellers a brand has, because they’re the people interacting daily with customers.

To harness the power of employees as digital ambassadors, you should create effective, companywide policies for social media use, covering how to identify oneself as an employee when promoting content, how to respond to customers, and subjects that employees should steer clear of.

4. Know when—and how—to respond.

Sandra Fathi, president of Affect, says the basic tenets of social media crisis management are responding through the same medium on which the offense occurred, apologizing quickly and sincerely and offering a remedy.

Knowing when to employ these tenets is paramount. Brand managers don’t have time to do battle with customers who are intent on voicing anger or being Internet trolls.

Jay Baer, founder of Convince&Convert, says social media crises have three key characteristics: information asymmetry (Does the company knows less than the public?), a change from the norm (criticism that falls outside of everyday conversation), and scope and scale (how much a situation can affect the company overall).

Creating a crisis communications plan will also help brand managers and their teams know when and how to respond in a variety of situations.

5. Use a cross-departmental editorial calendar.

Social media is a team effort.

Brand managers who use an editorial calendar can schedule promotional posts well in advance, leaving more time for social media monitoring and interaction—provided they also reschedule posts if a crisis or tragedy pops up.

When many departments are involved with an editorial calendar, promotions become more streamlined and customer service issues can be more easily resolved. In some cases, the legal team might get involved to make sure responses don’t feed social media fires or get the company into deeper trouble.

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