Staying calm amid a crisis: your guide to the right social media response

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

In today’s world, every business needs a social media crisis plan. What exactly constitutes a full-blown crisis? Well, really anything. A crisis can begin as an internal business error or happen as a result of external world events. A company must be prepared for all scenarios — insensitive, out-of-touch or tone-deaf comments, product fails and customer criticism, viral employee errors and bad behavior, site outages or broken links, and real-world crises, global events and tragedies.

Regardless of where the crisis begins, how a company responds is critical. Companies that respond well to a brand crisis see a 20% increase in value on average; those that respond poorly see a 30% decrease. That is a 50% swing!

Because social media gives users the ability to spread information in an instant, crises can spiral quickly. A company must be prepared beforehand for whatever it could face. That’s where planning comes into play. Within this article, we’ll take a look at the importance of a crisis management plan, its key elements, and companies that have gotten it right and wrong.

Prevention:

  • Create a documented social media policy for employees with clear guidelines to lessen the risk of a rogue, disastrous post.
  • Secure your accounts and passwords.
  • Stay on top of social listening to catch issues early. By consistently gauging brand sentiment and recognizing problems as they arise, you may be able to prevent a problem from turning into a crisis.

Preparation:

Even with preventative measures in place, a crisis is inevitable, and a company should be prepared for it. Planning is the most comprehensive and important step in enabling your company to successfully handle crises.

  • Put together a risk assessment plan that includes a spreadsheet of all scenarios, whether or not they are problems or crises, and how each will affect the company’s bottom line.
  • Establish a chain of command. The company will need to specify a point person for social media responses, press statements, and media inquiries. This depends on the level of crisis and involves a clearly understood internal chain of command from customer service to management to executives.
  • Read the room. Some problems can be laughed off with witty jokes, while others need a serious, empathetic tone. The wrong tone can ruin even the most perfect response plan.
  • Practice makes perfect! Create a holding statement and practice various crisis scenarios and responses by running drills.

Handling:

You’ve done all the hard work and your plan is in place. Now it’s time to execute! Put your prepared game plan into place, move up your chain of command as the crisis intensifies, publicly acknowledge the issue quickly with a holding statement and follow-up statement(s), and adjust your content as the crisis unfolds. Scheduled content, ads, and emails should be put on the back burner as you focus on brand image. Afterward, reflect on the crisis, learn from what went well and what didn’t, and adjust your plan moving forward.

Let’s take a look at two companies who both took heat on social media for racial issues. Yet, both handled their scenarios in drastically different ways and highlight where a response can go right or wrong.

In 2019 a well-known singer and songwriter named SZA visited a Sephora store and felt she was racially profiled by a Sephora employee named Sandy. Once she left the Calabasas Sephora, she tweeted about the experience to her millions of followers. The tweet received nearly 10,000 retweets and over 70,000 likes.

After SZA’s post, other users chimed in about similar instances of racial profiling by Sephora. Because of social listening and having a clear plan in place, Sephora immediately responded to SZA’s tweets apologizing and thanking her for bringing attention to the incident. They issued an additional statement adding that they wanted to make sure all members of the Sephora community felt welcome.

Because of their fast response, they quickly curtailed the explosion of negative tweets. One month later, Sephora took another step by closing their stores on June 6th to host inclusion workshops for their employees, showing exactly how a company should handle a racial profiling crisis.

In contrast, Dove also took heat for a race-related issue. On Facebook, the company posted an advertisement for Dove body wash that showed a black woman removing her top to reveal a white woman, appearing to many to show the black woman “cleaning” herself white. Celebrities quickly jumped in on this issue and soon more than 30,000 posts (not including shares) discussed the ad in the week that followed. More than 12,000 of those mentions included the word “racist.”

Dove posted a response an entire day later, simply stating that their advertisement “missed the mark.” Understandably, this response was not well received, especially considering Dove had previously been accused of another racist ad. Overall sentiment suggested that Dove failed to take proper responsibility for their mistake or use the mistake as an opportunity to highlight racial issues.

Dove is a large company with plenty of resources. If anyone should have the right crisis management plan in place, it should be a company like Dove. Yet, they still “missed the mark” with their response and suffered as a result. That is why it is so crucial to plan, practice, and continuously adjust.

Whether the problem originates online or off, social media is often a necessary component for brands to solve a crisis. Social media allows companies to apologize directly to the users that are most upset. When properly planned and executed, a social media response can stop a spiraling crisis dead in its tracks.

So, get ahead and begin your planning today!