Planning for a social media crisis

Planning for a social media crisis — The plan is to have a plan; before you need one

As part of Firebrand Talent’s #digitalks event series, I recently spoke to audiences in Sydney and Melbourne on the importance of planning for a social media crisis before you find yourself in the midst of one.

  In the hustle that is business as usual, planning for social media crisis is often overlooked in favour of quick wins and easy leads; but with the majority of organisational crises occurring due to internal actions (or inactions) – can you afford NOT to have a plan for when (not if – when) you experience a social media mishap? In a news media cycle that perches somewhat precariously atop a mountain of clickbait content, social media crises are an easy score for journalists hungry for a story. That story, in most cases, has already been written in shades of consumer outrage as armchair commentators join the digital fray. Passing judgment via the court of public opinion they casually upload screen shots of the ‘evidence’ to social media while Google caches that content to make your crisis a first page SEO highlight. The reality is, despite your best intentions at containing an issue or managing a scandal:

“A crisis does not determine who is right – only who is left.”

You can’t plan to always be right; but you can plan to always be left.    

Here are my top 10 tips for planning for a social media crisis:


1. Have a plan – before you need one.

You already know what your organisational risk pain points are: use this knowledge to extrapolate your most likely social media risks and plan your contingency communications accordingly.

2. Don’t wait until you hear thunder to build your ark.

Take a leaf out of Noah’s story – he built that ark before a storm appeared on the horizon. Apply the same approach to your organisational social media crisis preparedness.

3. Protect yourself from yourself… then others.

Look closely for internally arising organisational risks just as diligently as you address your external risks. Update your employee social media policy, ensure your social media strategy aligns with broader organisational objectives, and THEN look at those risks that may arise externally.

4. Online perceptions create your offline reality.

Be mindful of the perceptions you create online during business as usual and during a crisis because they will impact on other parts of your organisation. From resourcing to sales — the ripple effect a social media crisis will have on your entire organisation will be felt from the factory floor to the boardroom.

5. Sometimes you’re going to be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

There will be times — through little fault of your own — when there is nothing you can say or do that will placate the anarchy that is occurring on your social media streams. Although your first instinct will be to defend your organisation, refrain from taking a combative approach. Opt for simple, polite, and fact based messaging.

6. Long term cyber-squatting isn’t a social media strategy.

You can’t actually be social without being socially present. Social media is not a monologue – it’s a dialogue. Make it easy for your audience to find and engage with you. If you’re just cyber squatting, or worse still, are absent from social media — expect your audience to talk at and about you online… without you.

7. Protect yourself from STDs… socially transmitted disasters.

Practicing safe social media is as easy as using protection. As part of your social media crisis plan, ensure you are actively monitoring what your audience sentiment is and what is being said about you, your brand, or your product online.

Identifying issues before they become crises gives you the opportunity to remediate the situation before you become the latest clickbait headline.


8. Knowing your social data equates knowing your social audience.

Exploit all the social media analytical tools available to you. Leverage your social media data to plan for how you will deliver communications during a crisis. Think content: words on a post won’t have the same cut through as a well-produced video. Apologies mean little without putting a face to them.

9. Think about how you are making your audience feel.

What you say is just as important as how you deliver that message online during a crisis. Above all, your crisis messaging must be relatable to your audience and pitched appropriately to engage people authentically and honestly.

10. Plan to break your own bad news – early and authentically.

Sell your own scandal by breaking your own news before the media come calling. By having in place the ability to quickly deliver crisis-orientated content that genuinely addresses your crisis in a relatable and responsible way, you are best placed to control your online narrative.

For those who’d like to take a look at the social mentions during my #digitalks presentations, I’ve pulled it altogether in Storify.


More reading:

How to prevent a social media crisis in business
3 reasons why a social media strategy is essential for your business
Brands beware: you can’t put a price on the value of your credibility


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Award-winning Australian recruitment agency, Firebrand Talent, ignites the careers of digital, marketing, creative, communications, advertising, & media talent. If you are looking for your next career move, check out the jobs we currently have on.


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