Build Your Social Media Crisis Management Plan Now
Sergio Oliveri |
 09/13/16 |
7 min read


When’s the worst time to create a social media crisis management plan? When your brand is in the midst of a crisis that’s going viral.

You can’t protect your brand’s reputation when you’re in the process of putting out fires and doing active damage control. And no matter the brand, the potential for disaster is always there – so you need to be ready for it. Now.

What you’re guarding against

Disasters come in many forms, and each has the potential to do lasting damage to your brand’s reputation if not handled properly. Here are a few examples of what you need to be ready for:

Ignored social complaints

Whether simply reporting a negative experience, or expressing dissatisfaction with a product, most consumers just want acknowledgement by brands – something that shows them brands see them and care about them when things go wrong. When that acknowledgement doesn’t come – or takes too long – some consumers may go on the attack on social media. This type of negative sentiment gathers steam quickly – especially when other consumers jump in to commiserate or share similar experiences.

Employee outbursts

There are a few ways these outbursts happen:

  1. Disgruntled employees may take to social to complain about what a horrible company you are to work for (in their eyes).
  2. Mischievous employees – particularly younger workers – might think it’s hilarious to video themselves licking a stack of tacos, or wiping a burger bun on the floor and then serving it to customers.
  3. Managers and executives aren’t immune to making mistakes – remember it was the CEO of Barilla who caused their big reputation disaster a few years back by making a few ill-advised comments during a radio interview. Which is another good point: Behavior doesn’t have to originate on social, or even online, to go viral there. But once it does, major news outlets will give it even more amplification.

Product issues

Some social complaints reveal larger issues at hand – as happened with Gluten-Free Cheerios last year. The company recalled nearly 2 million boxes of Cheerios after numerous consumers took to social to report getting sick after eating them.

How social monitoring tools help you

With top-notch social listening tools, insights are available in real-time – so you never have to be caught off guard by a crisis already in progress. Paying close attention to sentiment analysis especially helps ensure you’re aware of potential issues at the earliest possible moment.

Brands should always be listening, so if at any time sentiment dips in a significant way, you can explore what’s happening before things escalate. This was how Cheerios knew there was an issue with their gluten-free product. They responded with a voluntary recall, and a quick apology/explanation, to keep sentiment from plummeting beyond repair.



In addition to regular monitoring, brands should have alerts set up to inform them of particularly negative posts requiring immediate attention. This is something Checkers could have used. They were the brand whose employee served the dirty burger bun referenced above – but unfortunately they didn’t know about the video soon enough to prevent it from receiving 500,000 YouTube views, nearly 4 million Facebook views, and being mentioned on Fox News.



That’s the key advantage of being alerted to issues early – even if you can’t control the volume of social sharing, you can actively provide facts to counter any misinformation that’s spreading. This alone may prevent sentiment from dropping past the point of no return.  But in the best case scenario you may completely stop a crisis from happening at all.

What to do when you’re in the thick of it?

If you do find yourself with a crisis on your hands, despite early attempts to ward it off, you need to answer the concerns of the people with the loudest “voices” and bring things back from a boil to a simmer. This entails looking at specific audience segments to figure out who is most upset and why. And it may require looking at multiple sources to get the full picture.

One global brand woke to find themselves in the news cycle thanks to a video made in coordination by several protest groups. The video called for a boycott of their products – and it had gone viral.

The brand sprang into action, but was having a hard time seeing the impact of the damaging video on Facebook – their most important social network. Without this information they couldn’t assess the degree of risk in the “real world,” or whether these users were representative of the larger public’s views.

Using Facebook topic data – self-declared user demographics – they identified which specific products were targeted for boycott, which demographic groups were engaging with the issue, and which countries were driving larger engagement on Facebook.

It turned out women over 65 were engaging with the issue more than any other segment, and European news outlets were sharing the video more widely than others. This information wasn’t picked up during analysis on public social sources, so it was smart to surface insights from Facebook to understand the full picture.

These specific insights, combined with those surfaced from public social sources, allowed the brand to develop targeted campaigns to protect them against continued coverage.

An ounce of prevention…

Minimizing risk is always preferred over battling social users once a crisis has hit. That means focusing part of your social resources on awareness of hot-button issues – the kind that always have potential to erupt and gain fast momentum.

James Madison University smartly adapted their manual processes to better manage this social media intelligence. They knew higher education topics like college affordability and student safety often incited passionate discussion – and not all of it positive. Their manual surfacing was inefficient and time-consuming – it took two days to analyze data, leaving them at the mercy of social users until they were informed enough to respond.

Using NetBase’s real-time social monitoring tools JMU reduced that time dramatically – leaving them able to offer data and recommended actions to the university’s senior leadership within two hours.

But speed wasn’t their only gain. The data was much more precise than what they could previously gather.  They were now able to look at specific audience segments individually – such as current students, alumni, and the public – to drill down who needed a particular type of info and what misconceptions were out there.



This ability to access real-time social data is crucial, but it’s not the only way brands should prepare for crises.

Just as important is knowing who will do what when that “red alert” alarm is sounded.

There are a number of departments that might be involved in a social crisis, so each must know their role when one hits.

Will Customer Care respond to specific complaints? Will Marketing and PR create campaigns to counter negative messaging? Will Legal need to be involved? Who will keep the C-Suite apprised? And in the case of an employee or management connection, what will HR’s role be? All of this needs to be sorted out before a crisis happens. Just as first responders and soldiers run drills constantly to be ready for their next call, you also have to be prepared.

But don’t overreact

Part of the role of social media tools is determining the validity and strength of a crisis – because sometimes it’s actually better not to engage.

Consider the futility of sparring with Internet trolls – and look no further than the comments section of just about any active blog for frightening examples of people who just can’t help themselves. There’s no point in arguing with such people – and in fact, doing so can make things worse.

This is where having access to reliable insights makes the difference. Agency Camp + King saw the benefits of this when they were tasked with helping the Sacramento Kings launch their new logo.

Because the agency used NetBase to surface social insights, they already anticipated three potential negative reactions:

  • The change being too minimal to warrant a new logo
  • Complaints about the team’s performance and not making the playoffs being more important than rebranding
  • Over-rationalization of the need for the new logo design could come across as inauthentic

They also knew it was possible the logo could be leaked in advance of its official launch – and two days before the big day, that’s exactly what happened. The agency was alerted by NetBase, and learned the leaked logo was black and white – not representative of the actual finished design.

Conversation spiked and sentiment dropped, and Camp + King had to decide whether or not to enter the fray.

To make an educated decision, the agency used NetBase to find out the key themes driving the negative conversations. Two of the themes didn’t relate to the logo at all – frustration with the team’s performance, and frustration with management. The one that did apply revolved around assuming the colorless logo was the finished product.

Knowing the reveal of the actual logo would correct this misconception, Camp + King decided not to do battle on social over the logo, focusing instead on amplifying positive messaging about the team’s history with the city of Sacramento, and excitement over the official launch in two days.

The strategy paid off. Fans were swept up in the “New Era of Pride” campaign, celebrating the team’s and city’s history. They loved the logo and shared their desire to own the new team gear on social media.

Because Camp + King avoided adding fuel to the fire, Net Sentiment rebounded from -37 to +84 (on a scale of -100 to +100) and the launch was a huge success.

Don’t take unnecessary chances

Though brands often rebound after crises – even Barilla turned things around – no brand that’s been through the fire would recommend it. Living to tell the tale is one thing, but who knows what kind of success they’d have had without the interruption? The only guarantee brands have comes with not risking their reputations in the first place.

So don’t put off creating your crisis management plan another day. If your brand took a reputational hit today, you wouldn’t want to live with the regret of wishing you’d been prepared.

Need help putting your crisis management plan together? That’s what we’re here for – so reach out!

E-Book: How Strategic Brands Avoid a Social Crisis


Image from Michael Hilton


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