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What does it take to be prepared for a social media crisis?

3 min read


SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

This week, we asked: If a social media public relations crisis were to hit your brand tomorrow, do you think you would be prepared to respond effectively? The results:

  • We have the capacity to respond, but there’s no formal plan in place: 63.81%
  • We wouldn’t know it was happening until we read about it in the media: 15.24%
  • Yes, we have a well-documented social media crisis-control strategy: 15.24%
  • We’re monitoring social channels but lack the capacity for a response: 5.71%

If it can happen to McDonald’s, it can happen to you. The fast food chain recently found itself in hot water after its promoted trend on Twitter was turned into an opportunity to mock the company. McDonald’s pulled the trend after two hours. Some people have criticized the brand for ending up in that position in the first place, but think about how much worse things could have been if the company hadn’t been aware of how users were responding to the promoted trend and willing to take quick, decisive action. Two hours is long enough that pulling the trend isn’t a knee-jerk reaction, and the company didn’t make the mistake of trying to feed the trolls — engaging in rational debate with people who are out only for attention. But the company acted early enough to keep the abuse from truly going viral — and its response since then has been consistent and appropriate. You can argue about whether the company should have used the promoted trend at all, but once things began to go south, its response was right on point.

But what about you? If your social media presence were hijacked or a damaging news story broke about your company or a customer service complaint started to go viral, would you be prepared to respond in a cool, disciplined manner? Most of you say you’ve got the means to respond but no plan for how you’d react. And that’s a problem. Because when it comes to social media, he who hesitates is lost. Speed is important, but so is consistency and calm. And those are attributes you can get only from having a well-considered social media crisis-response plan.

Maybe it’s the word “plan” that frightens people. This doesn’t have to be a major undertaking: Having a social media crisis plan means everyone knows his or her role. If you don’t have a plan yet, try asking yourself:

  • Who is supposed to be monitoring social channels for signs of trouble? How is the person doing this?
  • If something went wrong, who would have the authority to respond?
  • If that person is unavailable, how is that authority delegated?
  • What kind of negative reaction does the company need to respond to, and which ones are better left alone?
  • What’s the official company line for common complaints about the brand?

Now, knowing the answers to those questions isn’t the same as having a social media plan. But it’s a start. You can hammer out the answers to those questions in an afternoon meeting and use them as provisional guidelines while you work on a more formal plan. That way, you won’t be caught flatfooted, even if trouble comes looking for you.

How are you preparing to respond to negative publicity on social media channels?