How to Handle a Social Media Crisis

Social media has had a drastic effect on the way public relations is practiced and at the rate that social media is developing, its hard to say that there will ever be a good benchmark for companies to follow. Crisis management differs in social media because messages are shared instantaneously and facts about the issue are diffused (and sometimes sensationalized) after a time or two around. This all creates a very narrow window of opportunity for the offending party to respond and repair whatever damage is done.

Its very likely that you’ll learn about the crisis second hand – from Facebook posts and comments, tweets and hashtags – so the first thing you need to do to handle a social media crisis is get a thorough understanding of what happened. Who said what? How did they say it? How far has it spread?

The next thing to do is to respond quickly. Time is sensitive and it will fuel the fire of angry customers. Craft an apology and put it out on the same platform where the incident occurred (you wouldn’t try to fix via Reddit a problem that occurred on Twitter).

Identify your angriest publics and connect with them on an interpersonal level through direct messaging, email or phone. Your solution to their problem might be more individualized and it gives you the freedom to offer something that you wouldn’t offer to the masses.

Now that you’ve talked the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk. Some sort of grand gesture may be necessary, or it might be as simple as following through with any policy changes or practices you promised to implement. In any case, you need to show your customers that you will do whatever it takes to win back their support.

Popular social media crises like United Airline, Dominos and Nestle were/could have been demoted to “issues” when/if the companies had a flexible response strategy. The Dominos case is a good example of timely PR crisis communication, whereas the Nestle case handled it entirely differently. Dominos responded quickly and appropriately to the negative comments generated by an unsanitary video of two employees as shown in a YouTube video. Dominos responded using the same channel and strict legal action against the employees. Nestle; however, took too long to respond to the crisis. Nestle also had the most to lose because it began with pretty high public sentiment. Check out these infographics on the cases and let me know what you think or how you would have handled the situations differently.

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