3 steps to planning for a social media crisis

You might as well accept it. You’ll be involved in a social media crisis one day. And without the right planning that can hurt.

Planning to meet a crisis takes time and effort. But the principles behind the planning are reasonably simple.

So here are Mosoco’s 3 (not-so) easy steps!

Step 1: Audit

As usual, the first step is a little strategic auditing: where am I now, where do I want to get to; and how am I going to get there.

First of all you need to agree your crisis management requirements:  the types of crisis you are likely to face, the scale of the possible downside (so you can understand how much to invest), the ideal way you want to handle those crisis (how much can you afford to care about individual customers), and the results you want to see.

Once you have identified the “ideal world”, you need to audit your existing processes:

  • Are they complete; do they cover all your business functions and processes or are they firmly placed within PR or Marketing? Do you have a system for directing problem content to appropriate people within the organisation?
  • How do you identify what content needs to be responded to and when negative content starts to become a crisis?
  • Are your processes effective? Are you sure: have they been tested? Are they up to date in terms of social media landscape and employee/agency contact details?
  • Do current staff with responsibility for crisis management have adequate understanding of social media and the crisis management processes and are they able to deliver them with available resources?
  • Are your current social media management tools adequate, especially your social listening and archiving tools? How are you currently moderating inbound and outbound comments, and what is your approach to interacting on social media accounts you don’t own (e.g. review sites)?

Once you have answered those questions you will need to undertake a “gap analysis” in order to identify what needs to be done to achieve your strategic goals for social media crisis management.

Step 2: Prepare

The team

Next, if you haven’t got one already, you will need to establish a multi-functional crisis management team. You might have people from social media triage, HR, sales, compliance, marketing and IT in this team. It shouldn’t be from a single department though as social media problems can affect all parts of an organisation.

You will also need a clear chain of command with a senior crisis manager who will confer with, and delegate to, other team members.

Another important team member is what I call the “triage nurse”. This is a person who is responsible for listening to social buzz, deciding what needs a response, and forwarding each post to the appropriate person to deal with it. They should ideally be “business function agnostic”, capable of recognising compliance issues, HR issues and security issues as well as marketing or PR issues.

You will need to ensure individual team members have appropriate training and skills as well as understanding that they have the freedom of movement to manage a crisis within agreed guidelines.

Scenario planning

In order to develop crisis management guidelines for people to work within, you will need to be aware of the most likely crisis scenarios you might face. Use your imagination as well as reading up as many case studies as you can to identify what these might involve. Typically, a crisis can be caused by things like:

  • Senior executives resigning
  • Inappropriate employee behaviour
  • Problems with products or customer service
  • Marketing failures such as non-compliance or astro-turfing
  • Security issues such as brand-jacking

Pre-prepared crisis content

You will also want to develop crisis management guidelines for how to respond to each different type of crisis including:

  • The process: where to respond, how to respond, how to maintain a “single voice”, when and how to escalate
  • The tone of voice you will use for different platforms (Facebook is likely to be different from LinkedIn for instance, while Pinterest will need a more visual approach)

One of the hardest tasks is to develop pre-prepared position statements for the early stages of each likely scenario, especially where the scenario hasn’t been faced before. Depending on the individual scenario, prepare content such as sincere apologies, an explanation of what has gone wrong, and statements that “the issue is in hand”. They won’t be exactly right when the issue hits of course, but they should save you time by acting as a sensible starting point.

Ensure an appropriate tone of voice is used by taking account of the cause of the crisis and the effect it will have on people. Are people in genuine danger? Are they merely being inconvenienced? Or are people simply laughing at you for some reason?


Once you have developed management guidelines you will need to ensure that the right technology is in place. This will include:

  • Appropriate social media management tools including listening, moderation, post management and archiving
  • A website that has the ability to host crisis statements in a way that is easy to access on mobile devices
  • Presence of your brands on all major platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook so crisis statements can be placed there
  • Appropriate security, including robust password protocols – just giving anyone access to the Twitter account is generally a bad idea!

Places and people

Another useful thing to do up-front is to identify influencers and important channels. Ensure the team has access to data about:

  • The most important social media channels and sites, in terms of their size and their relevance to organisation
  • The most important brand and industry influencers (e.g. bloggers, tweeters, specialist communities, activists journalists etc)

Step 3: Practice

Ensure the whole team has the opportunity to practise managing a social media crisis using a realistic scenario.

This does two things. First it tests the crisis process for each type of scenario to find out how effective it is. Is it up to date? Does it work in practice – for instance if an escalation process involves the CEO, is he available when needed?

Practising with a simulated crisis also exposes the team members to the reality of managing a social media crisis. They will see the speed a crisis can move at and experience the need to prioritise on different platforms. They will be exposed to the need to take individual decisions. They will discover the need to accept a certain level of personal abuse and not get upset by it.

The result

By planning for a social media crisis you should ensure that your organisation has the right tools and processes in place to manage a social media crisis. This involves a further six steps:

  • Listening to the social buzz and identifying an emerging crisis
  • Triaging posts (some dogs are best left lying) and directing content to appropriate team members
  • Maintaining transparency by acknowledging negative comments and even sharing them and asking for feedback
  • Responding to individuals and the audience at large with positive and helpful information
  • Resolving the problem, reporting this and asking for feedback, especially from customers who were affected
  • Reviewing the crisis and learning from it

More on those steps another day! But in the meantime, if you want help with planning your approach to social media crisis management don’t hesitate to get in touch with Mosoco’s social media risk team on hello@socialmediarisk.co.uk.



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