Skip to content

A Comprehensive Guide To Managing A Social Media Crisis


As a B2B marketer, I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of pop-up fires. Sending the wrong email to a huge list of followers. Website crash. A hacked social media account. Not having enough materials for your conference attendees. Tagging the wrong business in a Tweet. You get the idea.

When it rains, it pours. Thankfully the impact of the issue is relative to its severity. A few misspelled words are not as significant as your website crashing. Some fires are easy to manage and put out quickly, while others require a team of specially trained firefighters.  

However, you can learn to manage and overcome a social media crisis. Put on your fire gear and grab your fire hose - let’s learn how to effectively fight a social media crisis!

Before the fire: prepare yourself

1: Define the crisis.

A 911 operator defines whether the crisis requires firefighters, police officers, an ambulance, or another special team. As a social media firefighter, you must decide what determines a crisis.  A misspelled word or one negative comment shouldn’t throw you into firefighter mode. But what should?

  • Information asymmetry. The first indication of a social media crisis is that the general public knows more about the issue than your company, and they announce it loud and clear on social media.
  • A series of negatives. A few critical reviews or a handful of unhappy clients are not a crisis. But a pattern of negative responses from your audience is the second sign to alert you to a social media crisis.
  • A negative impact on your company. The magnitude of the crisis is important. Does it lessen your reputation, deteriorate your brand, turn customers away? If so, you’ve hit the third point of a social media crisis.

Be aware of your major weaknesses that are most likely going to alert you to a crisis. Your company is unique, therefore your crises may look different from others in your industry. Share this with your team so everyone can be alert.

(Follow the advice Smokey the Bear teaches children about preventing wildfires, which is mighty similar to social media fires: you can prevent wildfires, and be careful when you see fire.)

2. Gather your fellow firefighters.

One firefighter will have a difficult time putting out a fire. But a complete team of firefighters will probably be successful. Assemble your fellow firefighters onto a Social Media Crisis Team.

Although social media is categorized under the marketing department, your Social Media Crisis Team should include members from various departments. Why not invite at least one person from each department to join your firefighting team? (Let’s be honest, it would be entertaining and memorable to invite them with a special firefighter invitation...).

Your Social Media Crisis Team should include the following roles:

  • Head Firefighter (the strategists). These are the leaders who make sure the entire team stays in target. Much like the head firefighter, these representatives are spokespeople for the media.
  • Technician Firefighter (the analysts). During a crisis, firefighters acts as technicians who constantly monitor the situation. The analysts on your Social Media Crisis Team should be continuously monitoring social media platforms for keywords, tags, mentions, and comments that elicit a response. Make sure this team documents everything thoroughly!
  • Specially Trained Firefighter (the content specialists). Much like a specially trained doctor, specially trained firefighters are experts in particular areas (think house fires, factory explosions, vehicles on fire, etc.). Your content specialists are expert thinkers and writers; they will create the unified message that is published across all channels.

3. Stick with your training.

When a fire breaks out, remember what you’ve been taught. You cannot control a fire or the comments of an audience, but you can control the messaging that you publish.

Lay out your core values and what drives your values, mission and culture. Focus on the characteristics that make your brand special. Communicate in an authentic and apologetic manner to regain the public’s trust.

Here’s the key: reflect those values in every single piece of content that you publish amidst a fire. Minimize the outbursts and prevent customers from leaving your business by reminding them of why they chose your brand in the first place!

Helpful hint: Don’t forget to follow your company’s established communication guidelines!

4. Monitor the environment.

A fire will spread if it’s not contained. When weather conditions are optimal for fires, firefighters are more alert and also educate their community on best practices to prevent fires. Your social media fires are similar.

When you first observe warning signs of a social media crisis, listen! Social listening is monitoring social media feeds for company mentions, what your competitors are up to, and trending topics. This pushes your team toward proactivity, which allows you to mitigate a crisis before it blows up.

Address individual issues with an immediate response or directing a relevant employee to handle the situation.

During the fire: do what it takes to put the fire out

1. Pause all social media activities.

Nothing is worse than a building burning down because the firefighters were otherwise engaged in a photoshoot for their annual sexy firefighters calendar…

Thankfully, that’s a made up story! But you can understand why it’s important to halt all social media activities until the fire is put out. No one wants to see a cheerful post on your account when your business is falling apart due to a crisis.

2. Remain a unified team.

Firefighters unite as a team to fight a fire. Your company should do the same. Send a company-wide email to clearly address the issues with your entire team. Detail what happened and the statement that you are issuing to the public. Honesty is essential, even if you cannot share the full extent of the crisis. Remind your team that they can ask questions.

Next, alert your Social Media Crisis Team. Ask them to step into their firefighting roles immediately. The sooner you act, the less damage the fire will accrue.

3. Make a public statement.

It’s always better to hear the news from the source rather than a grapevine of followers. Your first public statement should be brief yet clear and apologetic. Assure your audience that you are aware of the issue, dealing with the situation, and will provide more details soon.

That will satisfy people for a short time, which allows you extra time to compose a more detailed response. Your second public statement should be more comprehensive, covering the what, when, where, why and how.

Fires are scary and people desire peace instead of chaos. By continually offering transparent communication, your brand can survive the fire and come out even stronger than before. Even if you don’t have much to say, keep posting updates until the fire is completely put out.

Helpful hint: Don’t take things too personally. Set aside your roller coaster of emotions and put on your logic hat.

4. Keep records of everything.

911 calls are recorded. Fire trucks are equipped with GPS trackers. There are reports of how the emergency was handled. Everything is recorded.

During your social media crisis, keep records of everything. I repeat: during your social media crisis, keep records of everything.

Take screenshots of social media posts, comments, and responses, including your employee comments and responses.
Archive emails.
Make notes of who supported you during the crisis (such as stakeholders).
Search Google for keywords associated with your social media crisis.

This valuable information will help you determine the cause and location of the initial fire, how it spread, and where it spread to.

After the fire: reflect, regroup, regain

1. Reflect on the impact of the fire.

Some fires are contained to a small area, like an oven. Others ravage miles and miles of land, eating up anything in its path. How big was your social media fire?

Compare the insights from an average social media week with your crisis week. The results should indicate the extent of your fire. Look at things like:

  • Followers. Measure the total number of current and new followers. Note if the crisis caused you to lose followers. Consider your follower demographics to see how the crisis impacts various regions or countries.
  • Brand sentiments. What emotions, opinions, or attitudes does your audience believe regarding your brand?
    Inbound conversations. How many direct comments, mentions, tags, shares, or messages your received.
    Average response time. How prompt were your employees at responding to and adequately following-up with customer comments, feedback or questions?
    Amount of content shared by employees. How involved were your employees in sharing crisis-related posts? Did they share, like, or comment on your corporate messages?
    Website traffic. With so much social media attention, did your website gain more traffic during the crisis?
    Search volume patterns. How often was your crisis searched for across the globe? This points out how prime your crisis was felt.

2. Regroup with your Social Media Crisis Team.

Your Social Media Crisis Team extinguished the fire, but their work isn’t complete yet. Review the strongest and weakest areas of your plan and how the situations were handled. Here’s a few questions to initiate the conversation:

  • What was your overall experience of the crisis as an individual and member of your team (strategist, analyst, or content specialist)?
  • Was our internal communication helpful?
  • Were our public statements impactful?
  • Were we able to provide timely, unified, clear responses? Why or why not? Is this related to our communication guidelines?
  • Did you feel equipped and prepared to respond to the crisis?
  • Which employees rose to the occasion by offering fast customer support? Which employees did not participate or lacked the necessary information to be involved?
  • Do we need to install new guidelines, templates, processes or procedures to better fight future crises?

3. Regain the advantage.

Every time that a firefighter fights a fire, he hones his skills. Each time you face a social media crisis, you will refine your skills. Embrace the crisis as an opportunity to learn and improve!

Post-fire you can help other companies extinguish social media fires or even train employees how to handle customer responses with the documented comments during the crisis.

It’s time to start fighting fires!

A social media fire could spark at any moment. But now that you’re a trained social media firefighter, you know how to prevent, handle, and learn from any fire.

Not sure if you’re firefighter material? Our MindShift team are experienced experts at fighting fires. We can train your team to be active social listeners (which help prevent social media fires). Our team can be the backup team of firefighters that you call when the fire is beyond your control. We can even step in post-fire to help you assess the damage, regroup your team, and take a fresh step into the hopeful future. Ready to be a firefighter? Contact us with the form below to get started!

Love our insights?

Who do you know that would benefit from reading our content?