Don’t Panic! How to Handle a Social Media Marketing Crisis

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Deprimierte Frau mit Computer: Datenklau oder DatensicherungSocial media is a great way to rub virtual shoulders with potential and actual customers. But some marketers are hesitant to dive in. That’s understandable; social can be intimidating, and extremely unpredictable. Things happen fast –especially on channels like Twitter – and most of us aren’t as nimble as we need to be in order to react to the rapid-fire pace. That’s especially true when a social media crisis comes up.

But social media is too big an opportunity to miss out for fear of a blunder.  According to Social Media Today, here’s why B2B marketers invest in social media:

  • 83% do it to increase brand exposure
  • 69% do it to increase web traffic
  • 65% do it to gain market insights

That last one is interesting. Social media listening tools can help you find likely leads and discover key influencers you might want to engage. They can help you benchmark your web traffic, blogs, social traffic, and views against your competition. But it’s the first two areas – increasing brand exposure and driving traffic – where you can really start to move the dial. And of course, in order to do that, you need to put yourself out there. And that means putting your brand at risk if you make a mistake.

So before you start tweeting, pinning, sharing, posting, linking, liking, and retweeting on social channels, you need to make sure you have a strategy in place to handle any issues that arise. And that strategy should include a solid plan for what you’ll need to do in case of true emergencies.

Crisis Management

Just like in every other marketing channel, accidents can happen. For example, one of your employees could post a tweet from the corporate account, thinking they were using their own personal account. That’s what happened to the American Red Cross when a social media specialist tweeted about finding beer and “gettng slizzerd” while using the official Red Cross twitter account. (I had to look it up… “slizzerd” means getting drunk, apparently.)


Well, that’s embarrassing! But here’s the thing: How you respond to mistakes is critical.  The follow-up – or in some cases the attempted cover-up – is often worse that the original error. In this case, the Red Cross did the right thing by apologizing right away, and also poking a little fun at the situation.


It’s an approach that worked well in this case, because it was more of an “oops” moment than a PR disaster. Knowing the difference – and taking the appropriate action – is the key to success.

Damage Control

How do you know when you’ve got a true crisis on your hands? This infographic highlights the difference between a low-impact event and a severe emergency. Here’s a summary:

  • Low: A low impact event or one-off tweet doesn’t always demand a reaction. If someone is complaining about slow shipping, bad service, or a rude employee, you might just want to monitor the situation. That way you can determine the severity and respond if and when necessary through a public or private message.
  • Guarded: This is a situation that could go either way or turn out to be nothing. It’s also something to monitor before responding (or not responding). For example, if you tweet during a severe rainfall that umbrellas are on sale and suddenly the storm turns into a deadly disaster, your offer can be seen as callously capitalizing on a tragedy. Remember, you don’t want to shoehorn your brand into a trending topic if it’s not really relevant.
  • Elevated: Moderate or potentially inflammatory situations generally demand a response. A good PR team can often put a positive spin on a negative story. Remember to take a step back – never react when you don’t have control over your emotions.
  • High: When your brand is being attacked, it’s time to move into crisis management mode. Sincerely apologize when called for, and do your best to right the wrong.
  • Severe: If your brand has posted something incredibly inappropriate, that goes viral and sees thousands or millions of impressions, you’ve got a true social crisis on your hands. Remove the offending post, issue an apology to the public, and be sure to send personal apologies to everyone who mentions you. If necessary, take disciplinary action against the person responsible for the post, and let your social networks know what you’ve done.

Many companies don’t have the resources to develop a real-time presence on social channels. The job of posting to Twitter or Facebook is often given to anyone who has the bandwidth – and sometimes that’s an intern. And that’s a mistake, since it’s important to hire the right person to run your social media campaigns. They’re the ones with the keys to the kingdom, and someone who is not really engaged or paying attention is someone who will be more likely to make mistakes.

After all, the best crisis management plan is to avoid getting in to trouble in the first place.

260x200_5ways-to-integrate-social-media-thumbIf you’re ready to get started, here’s an excellent eBook that can help: 5 Ways to Integrate Social Media across Marketing Channels. After all, social media is just another marketing channel. And like all marketing channels, it’s most effective when integrated into a larger cross-channel marketing plan. Take a look. And be sure to share your social media mistakes in the comments, so we can all learn from each other.