How to Manage & Respond to Crises Using Social Analytics

Carol Feigenbaum |
 02/25/20 |
8 min read

How To Manage and Respond To Crises Using Social Analytics

Mishaps happen to every brand at some point. And it is not the level of severity that differentiates them from each other, rather its the sophistication of a brand’s response. Because, when brands get crisis response wrong, they go viral for all the wrong reasons.

The problem for modern brands isn’t issues cropping up – it’s how quickly social media turns small problems into viral catastrophes. Though, there is good news too. Social media analytics allows brands to be alerted to these events as they happen and respond with light speed to quell the largest waves before they sink your ship.

This next section of our Complete How-To Guide: Social Analytics explains how using Social Media Analytics helps you weather a crisis, as well as keeps your brand out of the line of fire in the first place.

Let’s dive in!


What qualifies as a “crisis?” Anything that puts your brand in the public eye in a less than flattering way can qualify. It all depends on how it escalates – that that is entirely up to you. This isn’t limited to scandal or sabotage – i.e., your CEO or a disgruntled employee saying something damaging, or meant to incite outrage.

Something as simple as running out of stock during a big promotion can spark a crisis – especially with social consumers in the mix.

Social users love a bandwagon. So, in such a situation, you aren’t just dealing with the customers directly affected by the stock shortage; you’re dealing with every social user with a complaint of their own, or an opinion about a supposedly superior competitor. They’ll all gladly chime in, keeping your brand in an unwanted spotlight.


One of the most important things for brands to remember is that crises happen – to everyone. The moment you think it can’t happen to you, you’ve left yourself vulnerable to a sudden twist of fate.

Popeye’s faced this challenge when it released its spicy chicken sandwich and kicked off the great chicken sandwich wars of 2019. Its stores ran out of inventory and there were fistfights about it.

And then we saw Build-a-Bear suffer similarly during their moment of crisis – during their Pay Your Age promotion. They knew it would be popular, but didn’t expect the overwhelming crowds that turned up in some areas. As much as they hated to shut down the events in those locations, it became a safety matter, and they had no choice.

How did both Popeye’s and Build-a-Bear weather the storm? Each experienced minimal damage to their brands, because they followed Crisis Management best practices. And Popeye’s is just monumentally masterful when it comes to online advertising regardless.


Just as you can’t control the weather, you can’t control what is shared and spread by social consumers. But you can control your awareness of and preparedness for such events.

The worst thing a brand can do is ignore Social Analytics. Whether you’re launching a new product, running an ongoing campaign, or just dealing with business as usual on any given day, you need to know the perception of your brand in the wild. That’s where Social Analytics come in.

Tools like Social ListeningSocial MonitoringSentiment Analysis, and more allow you to follow social conversations in real-time, so you’re aware the moment a shift in attitude or swell of emotion occurs.

And knowing what happens in the moment is crucial. It’s when you have the best chance to stop a potential crisis before it gains momentum. Ignore it at your brand’s peril.


You can’t recognize a shift in sentiment if you don’t have a sense of how things look on a regular day. And this is why regular Social Listening is so important. This, along with Sentiment Analysis, allows you to understand the emotions driving your target audience. Not only that, this data highlights areas of concern taking priority amongst your customers and prospects in general.

It’s important to stay on top of timely issues and meet consumers where they are in the moment. Gillette even attempted to get ahead of them, with its “The Best Men Can Be” campaign.

Sensing a shift in the overall “what it means to be a man” dynamic, Gillette sought to encourage men to push back against stereotypical behaviors and focus more on understanding and caring to become their “personal best.”

Gillette The Best Men Can Be ad and social crisis

The idea went over like a ton of bricks with a huge segment of their audience, as the 1.5M dislikes above show, but either way, Gillette’s actions highlight an important need. Brands must focus on brand health always, not just when you’re ‘sick.’ And social analytics takes the temperature for you, so you catch extremes well before they peak.

When you have a baseline awareness of your brand’s standing with social audiences, you’ll quickly recognize when uncommon occurrences send sentiment spiking into the red. Without it, you may panic unnecessarily, or – just as bad – not react when you should.


Once you’ve got the basics in place – acceptance, awareness, and clarity – there are several tools and tactics to make use of as you form your Social Crisis Plan. Here’s how to get the most from them:

Let the past inform the present – and future

There are several reasons you want to perform periodic social media audits, and preventing crises certainly tops the list. Looking back at quarterly and seasonal trends, in particular, helps you stay ahead of trouble-spots and keep them from reaching critical mass. And honestly, having a good feel for what happens in your stores day-to-day can help you stop problematic behaviors before they hit the front page of Google news.

For instance, Sephora realized the importance of using social crisis management tactics to keep abreast of hot-button issues, so hopefully they’ll know what they have to contend with ahead of the next PR crisis.

Sephora’s Sandy

In April of 2019, hit singer SZA was racially profiled at one of their stores – and she tweeted to her significant Twitter following about it:

Sephora racial profiling crisis response

To which she received replies claiming this was an ongoing issue at those stores, company-wide:

Sephora consumer response to emerging crisis

And whether or not that was in fact true, the point is that it resonated with many reading it – and it set a thought pattern in motion. No store wants an online mob coming after them for any reason, particularly not something of the discrimination kind!

Sephora responded swiftly, apologizing for the misunderstanding and shutting down all of its stores for an hour of centralized diversity training. Smart move.

Assessing social media audit results daily reveals patterns that brands can work with, or at least be aware of, including which audience segment cares most about which issues. And this points to another important consideration – sorting out what your optimal baseline metric even are is key. The conversation may be all over the map, and starting from scratch to sort out what kind of conversation is normal when you’re in the midst of a crisis makes everything that much more awful.

Spot reputational threats early, and defuse situations before they explode.

Set up real-time alerts

The worst thing you can be when a crisis strikes is unaware – especially when awareness is so readily available through Social Monitoring Tools. Use real-time alerts to be informed every time your chosen hot button keywords pop up in social posts.

And don’t forget to include image alerts. Whether someone is co-opting your logo for nefarious purposes, or an unsavory influencer is sporting your branded merch (seemingly representing you), you need to know. Especially if such posts are being seen and shared by others.

Social Monitoring Tools also allow for real-time tracking of changes in social conversation, upticks in negative sentiment, emerging themes with damaging potential, and influencers to engage when a crisis hits.

The sooner you know what’s happening, the better your chances of controlling the message. And this something Peloton could have benefitted from.

Peloton Pedals Into Trouble

Peloton’s Christmas commercial, The Gift That Gives Back, showed a young and fit mom/wife being gifted a Peloton exercise bike for Christmas from her husband. She then records herself using it for a year. And then shares her happiness – and how using the bike has changed her – with her husband as a ‘thank you’ during their Christmas celebration the following year:

Peloton ad that caused a social crisis for the company

But then there was a sudden spike in mentions and sentiment nosedive when a comedian decided to create a pretty hilarious parody of it – one that went viral immediately:

tracking spike in mentions around a brand, in this case Peloton

And that opened the floodgates, with all eyes turned toward Peloton and the ad flagged for showcasing an emotionally abused wife:

understanding crisis conversation as it happens to craft an appropriate response

The company was caught unaware and responded poorly, sharing an ill-advised statement that focused on its disappointed around how its viral ad was misinterpreted. The general public was not impressed. Neither were stockholders:

Peloton stock drop

Your brand’s financial health depends on consistent and accurate brand health monitoring and informed crisis response. Learn from this!

Uncover what’s driving consumer sentiment

There’s no one way to handle a crisis – which is perhaps why brands often muck things up. Each situation is unique, so your smartest move is to look to Social Sentiment for guidance.

Do you need to respond? What does your audience most need to hear at various moments as the crisis unfolds? They’ll certainly tell you!

Take the time to assess the emotions driving the conversation and respond accordingly. Better still, assess consumer sentiment ahead of time to understand what is/isn’t appropriate.

Snapchat obviously thought it had some of this work done – and that it was on target – when it released a game featuring Rihanna. Trouble is, they miscalculated in a huge way.

The game, Would You Rather, gave users animated options to choose between. One instance of the options asked if they’d rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown, her ex famously known for physically abusing the famous singer.

Rihanna’s response and the resulting fallout was intense:

Rihanna responding to Snapchat about its ill advised game mocking her

Snapchat’s initial response was a less than energetic apology, saying in a statement, “The advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines.” After its stock plunged 4%, it came back a little stronger, but it was too late.

Don’t let the same fate befall your brand. Know what’s happening around you and be ready to apologize immediately and fully if/when you get it wrong.

Assign key roles to key players in advance

When you’re in the thick of a crisis is not the time to train your staff how to handle one. Things happen quickly – especially on social media – so have a plan in place that outlines who is responsible for:

  • Analyzing incoming data, and insight as it shifts throughout the crisis
  • Managing access to data and dashboards, and keeping everyone updated
  • Decision flow to have in place, based on incoming insights, and who is available, as a key team member may be unavailable for whatever reason
  • Strategy implementation once decisions have been made
  • Guidelines for customer-facing team members to follow
  • Workflow approvals and access rights for all concerned.
  • A way to track communications to examine after the fact to know what works and what doesn’t.

Designated members of your team to interface with the public as needed, with the entire customer experience in mind.

You don’t need a team of hundreds – you just need the team you have to know what their roles are, and to execute them.

Remember social data is bigger than the marketing department. Just as a crisis can strike any facet of your brand, social data helps every facet of it. Don’t limit yourself or your team.


Crisis prediction isn’t an exact science, but Competitive Analysis, and a bit of imagination can take you far. Run drills for potential scenarios as you would any other kind of crisis, so it’s easier for everyone to keep their cool even when stress is high. Hands down, the best way to manage a crisis is to avoid one in the first place. Social Monitoring is designed for this purpose – and when applied regularly lets you put out fires at the first whiff of smoke.

And even when crises break through your well-placed defenses, you will be armed with the knowledge to fight in real-time, instead of playing catch-up after the fact.

Handle things well and you might even gain a few fans in the most chaotic of circumstances. What could be better than that?

Be sure to check out the rest of The Complete How-To Guide: Social Media Analytics as well as its companion The Complete Guide to Social Media Analytics. Additional topics include how to:

Ready to give our Social Monitoring Tools a try? Reach out for a one-on-one demo!

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