Having a social media presence is pretty much mandatory for companies in this day and age. Social media can be your best marketing avenue and a wonderful way to raise brand awareness, as well as generate more conversions.

However, social media also leaves you vulnerable to mishaps, even full-blown crises, in addition to the complicated and very public aftermath that comes with it. Every company that has a social media presence will be confronted with a crisis at some point or another, so before you even start, it is a good practice to have a social media crisis plan in place. Here is how to handle it.

Before the Crisis

Step 1: Create a plan

Okay, so first thing’s first – while everything is going great, you should start thinking about creating a plan, just in case things ever go wrong – and they will.

The plan should include every possible situation that may occur and the most appropriate response for it. Mistakes, gossip, unfortunate posts, accusations, scandals, bad customer service, horrible advertising – you should be covered for every eventuality.

You’ll also want to have a general prepared statement and apology ready, so that you can issue it as soon as possible. Time is of the essence with these matters, and the more you wait, the more it’s going to snowball into something that can no longer be controlled.

Your ultimate goal should be to diffuse the situation quickly, with as little impact as possible on your brand image. Clients and customers should still feel good about using your services.

During the Crisis

Step 2: Assess the situation

Let’s say you wake up and you’ve got a full-blown problem on your hands: someone messed up somewhere, everyone is appalled, and customers are angrily tweeting at you, DM-ing you, asking for a resolution, etc.

The first thing you should do is take a step back and assess the situation: is it as bad as it seems? Why is everyone upset? Who made a mistake? Is the reaction overblown, or warranted? You’ll want to investigate and have a full understanding of what happened before you can address anything.

Remember that every story has two (or multiple) sides, so don’t limit your inquiries to just one person; the more you know about this, the better you can handle it, so be thorough in your investigation.

Once you’ve looked at how things are and where you’re standing, you can start to formulate a plan and decide how you’re going to play this.


Step 3: Do not wait too long to address the situation

While taking some time to understand what’s going on is necessary, make no mistake – you still need to act quickly. This matter is urgent and waiting can make it worse.

The longer you wait to address things like this, the more impatient people become. Plus, it makes you look guilty and clueless. The sooner you address the situation, the more in control and in command you will seem. You will get to dictate the narrative, instead of allowing everyone else to do it.

Formulating a response as soon as a situation blows up may not always be possible but try not to wait more than a day. When you get to day 3, it’s already too late, the “truth” has already been established, and your brand image has been damaged.


Step 4: Do not ignore comments 

This is where a lot of companies go wrong – they ignore all the negative comments, all the comments asking for explanations, etc. While it’s understandable that a situation like this can be overwhelming, with a deluge of people asking for answers, these comments cannot go unnoticed.

Ignoring comments is pretty much the worst thing you can do, because it only makes people angrier. You come across as a distant company, who doesn’t know how to handle a crisis and who doesn’t care about their customers. You don’t need anyone to tell you that it’s a very bad image to create for yourself.

Comments should be addressed, no matter how angry. You are showing the public that you are not hiding away and that you are taking responsibility. This can go a long way when your image is into play, because every step counts, and a false move can have a lasting impact.


Step 5: Remain calm

Speaking of replying to comments, a lot of them will be nasty. In addition to all the people who will be understandably upset, there will also be a lot of trolls who are only in it to verbally abuse you and take advantage of the situation. Some will even make threats against you.

Threats and unkind behavior should never be tolerated, but responding to comments in a way that is anything but nice, calm and respectful won’t win you any brownie points. On the contrary – you will come across as unprofessional and inappropriate. Remember that the internet is forever, and anything you post publicly can come back and bite you.

This also goes for dealing with rude comments, in general, whether they’re on your Facebook page, on a blog post, or in your private messages.

What you need to do is use your customer service “voice” when interacting with followers, no matter how rude they are. That will maintain your professional image.


Step 6: Issue an apology

Finally, this all has to end with a publicly-issued apology on your part, and a commitment to do better in the future. A proper apology should include an acknowledgement of what went wrong, an explanation of what you’re doing to remedy the situation, and a promise to improve. It should also feature your regrets that the unfortunate situation occurred in the first place and your apology to anyone who was harmed, inconvenienced, etc.

In cases where the mistake is more serious, it may also be necessary to mention that appropriate measures have been taken to prevent this from happening again, including reprimanding the person in question or even letting them go.

Be careful, though – making up a scapegoat and blaming an intern for your company’s mistakes is not the right move, and your followers will be able to tell when the situation is fishy.

After the Crisis

Step 7: Review the way you handled the situation

Once the storm has passed, it’s time to gather everyone ‘round and take a look at how you handled the situation. Were you prompt enough? Responsive enough? Did your strategy work? What effect did this have on your image and reputation?

It’s important to review every step you’ve made and whether you’ve achieved your goal with each of them. Did you take some time to assess the situation? Were you able to successfully diffuse the situation? Were you polite? Did you issue an apology?

Sometimes, you may stick to the plan and it still won’t generate positive results. What’s important is to note what worked and what didn’t, so you know for future reference.


Step 8: Revise your crisis plan

Now that you’ve taken a look at how well the plan worked, what you did wrong, and what you did right, you may take some time to revise your crisis plan, based on your findings. Sometimes, you’ll need to tweak some steps. Other times, you’ll just have to make an effort to implement them better. Or perhaps your strategy was fool-proof and everything went smoothly.

Either way, the success or failure of your crisis management should influence the way you handle these kinds of things from now on. Sooner or later, you will arrive at the perfect crisis plan that gets you out of a scrape with minimal damage.

What’s the bottom line?

No PR crisis, no matter how bad, is the end of the world, but you still need to learn how to address the situation in the best way possible to ensure it makes as little negative impact as possible. There are a lot of ways you can handle something like this, and most of them are wrong.

The last thing you want is to inadvertently make the matters worse, so it’s always best to stick to a pre-approved plan. There are some clear and simple steps that you will need to take, regardless of the specifics of the situation. All you need to do is apply them properly and you’ll be able to successfully overcome any social media conflict, scandal, or crisis.