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How to Manage a Social Media Crisis: A Step-by-step Guide


By Lindsay Ashcraft

Published August 4, 2021

5 minute read

Is your brand prepared to manage a crisis on social media?

A "crisis" can be any event that negatively impacts your brand’s reputation — and when they hit, you often have little to no warning.

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Stay on top of the biggest social media marketing trends!

Is your brand prepared to manage a crisis on social media?

A "crisis" can be any event that negatively impacts your brand’s reputation — and when they hit, you often have little to no warning.

And with social media moving at lightning speed, effective crisis management can be the difference between a few negative comments and a viral boycott.

5 Steps to Manage Social Media During a Crisis 

  1. Create a Social Media Crisis Policy

  2. Pause All Campaigns and Scheduled Posts

  3. Assess the Impact (aka read the room)

  4. Formulate a Timely Response

  5. Create Actionable Steps to Address the Problem

Step #1: Create a Social Media Crisis Policy

Before you create your social media crisis policy, it's important to identify what qualifies as a crisis.

For example, you won’t need a full-blown response every time a disgruntled customer tags you, but it’s vital to recognize a problem before it escalates too far.

Brainstorm with your team to discuss when something should be flagged as a potential crisis and escalated to the relevant decision makers.

Make sure to identify who those decision makers will be well in advance. It’s key to choose those who have experience working in communications, as they’ll be responsible for crafting a response strategy.

By confirming this in advance, you'll save precious time when implementing your action plan.

For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world was adjusting to lockdown, the Later social team worked closely with our PR Manager to draft a statement acknowledging how this was not “business as usual.”

We then refocused our social strategy to better serve our audience during a period of uncertainty.

When sensitive issues arise, it can also help to have a revised approval process in place. Knowing what this sign-off process looks like in advance can save you valuable time, and will make sure nothing slips through the net.

Step #2: Pause All Campaigns and Scheduled Posts 

When a potential crisis has been flagged, pause all advertising campaigns and scheduled posts (temporarily) until you are ready to reply.

There’s nothing worse than appearing insensitive or salesy when the moment calls for a more tactful response.

Plus, it’s better to be a little late to the party with the right message, than find yourself sharing pre-scheduled content that further fuels a negative reaction from your audience.

TIP: Manage all your social media posts (Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and TikTok!) from Later's easy-to-use dashboard. It's free!

 Step #3: Read the Room and Assess the Impact

The best thing you can do during a crisis is to take a quick beat to “read the room.”

If it’s a larger scale event, such as a global or cultural movement, take the time to observe what’s being said online.

If it’s an internal situation, take stock of the scenario, consider all the possible implications, and revisit any previous communications (if applicable) that you can you learn from.

While a timely response is vital, you don’t want to miss the mark on your first message -- it’s what most people will remember.

TIP: Set up social listening so you can stay on top of conversations about your brand and address issues before they escalate. Later’s Conversations feature lets you monitor what customers are saying -- right from your desktop.

Step #4: Workshop Your Response

Once you’ve had a moment to assess the situation, you can start workshopping a timely response.

While it’s important not to rush and regret, you typically want to respond within 24 hours.

"During sensitive times it's more important than ever to respond to comments and DMs from your community. It can be a make-or-break moment of trust for your audience that they will remember forever." 

- Mel Mckechnie, Manager of Social Media at Later

When approaching conversations on your social channels, check your mindset. The key is to listen and let your audience know that you value their opinions and appreciate their feedback.

It may feel natural to take a defensive stance, but this can often do more harm than good --  generating more criticism and negativity.

Step #5: Create Actionable Steps to Address the Problem

You’ve dealt with the crisis and things are settling down on social media -- panic over.

But now it’s time for the follow-through.

Successful crisis management means being transparent with your audience and actively communicating changes within your company.

This means going beyond an apology or shifting content for the week -- you’ll need to dig deeper.

Most people don’t expect a brand to change overnight, but savvy audiences are increasingly demanding accountability from the brands they support or purchase from.

Managing any type of crisis on social media can be stressful. But being prepared with the right action plan means you can respond swiftly and get back your peace of mind.

Take the time to solidify your crisis plan today so your brand is ready for whatever comes tomorrow.

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Stay on top of the biggest social media marketing trends!

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