Social Media Crisis Management Playbook

Martin Taylor | Tuesday, January 21 2020

It can take a lot of time and effort to build a trusted brand and a highly respected reputation…… and in seconds this can all be lost.    

In the digital age people are online 24/7 and connected globally. If someone says something or something happens online that is detrimental to your business and you do not know about it, the results can do lasting damage to your brand.

It does not matter what industry you are in or how well you have managed your online reputation, sometimes things just happen out of your control.

Even if you do not currently rely on social media for customer acquisition and revenue streams that does not mean you are immune to the type of social media crisis that can leave a trail of destruction in its path.

In these situations, $[dark]{having a social media crisis management plan is absolutely vital.} This way, you will be able to put out any fires that might come your way and minimize any damage to the business.

Every business should have a plan, whilst the tactics may differ the strategy is largely the same. 

We have put together this playbook to give you all the information you need to make sure you are fully prepared before any potential disaster strikes.


For a useful graphical representation of this entire article click here to access our Social Media Crisis Management Infographic.

A social media crisis management plan should consist of three main crucial areas:

  1. Before the crisis
  2. During the crisis
  3. After the crisis

Let’s take a look at each area to see how you can set up to prepare yourselves for any eventuality.


To prepare and prevent any potential crisis from happening we have outlined a simple three step approach to follow.

  1. Setup social listening tool
  2. Set roles and responsibilities
  3. Define what a crisis is

Lets take a look into each step in more detail.


First things first. Quite simply if you cannot see the problem you cannot fix it. If you do not know about something you cannot do anything about it.

A fundamental part of any social media crisis management is the use of a social listening tool.

You can follow the rest of this playbook to the letter but without a suitable social listening tool in place you will not get the early warning your business needs to deal with the crisis head on.

Without the right social listening tool everything else you do to prepare for a social media crisis will be in vein, the situation will possibly have escalated beyond your control before you even get a chance to take action.

These are your powerful eyes and ears working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week monitoring all chatter online that relates to your business, your brand, your industry and even your competitors.

Without a social listening tool you lose the ability of an early warning system that provides you the crucial information you need in real time to assemble your stakeholders and essential team members together to respond to any type of crisis and minimize any potential threat to the future of your business.

But not all social listening tools are equal, and it is important that the tool you use provides you with the functionality that will maximize your chances of receiving an early warning of any potential crisis.

There are many different tools available with what can seem like an overwhelming choice of functionality. We suggest to ensure that the tool you choose enables you to do the following:

  • Tracking & Monitoring 
  • Sentiment Analysis 
  • Social Listening Analytics


The first and arguably most important part of your tool is the ability to track a variety of keywords, phrases and even hashtags that all relate to your business so that you can see literally everything that is being said about you or your brand in real time.

Of course, in addition to that you also want to be able to monitor all chatter that is directed at each of your social channels where usually the customer expects a far quicker response time.

However, just looking for mentions of your brand name is not enough. People will often speak about you or something related to your business in terms that far exceed simply stating your company name.

Below is a list of keywords and phrases you should consider setting up listening for:

  1. Company and/or Brand Name
  2. Any variations or abbreviations of company or brand name
  3. Most prominent and active staff members on social media
  4. Name of campaigns running now or in the past
  5. Any relevant catchphrases
  6. Any relevant slogans
  7. Any relevant tag lines
  8. Any relevant hashtags
  9. Product Names
  10. Domain names
  11. Any potential misspellings of the above

Not only should you be tracking all this on the social media platforms that you are active on but also all the other channels where your customers and prospects may be.

This means setting up across all social media platforms as well as forums, blogs and news sites to make sure that even if you are not currently active on there as a business you should be listening.

Monitor anywhere and any place people might be talking about you, leave no stone unturned. 


New technology in recent years has meant advanced software tools can now do more than just monitor and alert for specific key phrases as outlined above.

Sentiment analysis, also known as opinion mining or emotion AI, uses techniques such and Natural Language Processing to understand the context and meaning of sentences that means you can determine the attitudes and emotions behind the comments.

By using sentiment analysis instead of just monitoring chatter in the form of keywords and phrases online, you can now listen at scale across social media and be able to measure human emotion and opinion towards your brand.

It can then break down the comments into three types of scoring - positive, negative or neutral, meaning you can automatically track and analyze not just keywords now but also overall sentiment about your brand online.

Research has shown that the accuracy of sentiment analysis often ranges between 80-90% however, even the most sophisticated tools require a degree of interpretation. Use of slang, metaphor, irony and other linguistic traits can often be misinterpreted. Human analysis is still required.

By incorporating this into the configuration of your listening tool you can start to see the effects your marketing efforts are having online in relation to the overall emotional reaction towards your brand.

This is extremely valuable information as you are now not just looking for specific crisis ‘moments’ but able to see how your marketing efforts, new product releases, public statements and anything that might change the public opinion of you is affecting the overall general feeling about your brand.

As the feelings start to show a downturn you can analyze and evaluate what is causing this to happen, whether it be actions of your own brand or that of your competitors, and take action to stop it and remedy the situation before it becomes too harmful to the business.


Social listening analytics differ from the data that you gather from social media analytics.

Social listening is there to monitor individual comments and conversations that relate to the specific criteria that you have set up. 

From a crisis management perspective, it is important you have access to the right insights to help you not just by alerting of an impending crisis, but also the extent of the crisis and the state of play in the immediate aftermath.

Useful insights that you should look for in a social listening tool are:

  • Overall brand sentiment
  • Customer complaints and issues
  • All conversations about your brand and products
  • Customer feedback

You should be able to see everything that is being said about your brand in real time, giving you the opportunity to respond quickly and easily and not get overwhelmed by an avalanche of issues.

The analytics will be able to give you an overview birds eye view of everything that is happening and help you to make important decisions based on the way sentiment and conversations about you are changing.

Having excellent insights in your social listening tool can also provide additional value to your social media marketing efforts and help to refine your social media marketing strategy.


The best way to deal with any impending crisis is to make sure you have the personnel available for any given scenario.

This means having team members from departments such as PR, HR, legal, technical support, account managers, marketing and of course the most senior stakeholders as well as the CEO.

Not only do you need to cover different skillsets, but you also have to ensure that when they are needed, they are available. 

When a crisis is happening time is critical, there is no point having the best people around if when the time arises, they are not contactable or unable to deliver.

Not only are you looking for cover in different knowledge areas you also need to make sure that when a crisis hits you have a clear and delegated task list that defines all roles and responsibilities.

This is effectively a clear escalation policy, where you define the initial recipient of the alarm, and a detailed chain of command to escalate to the appropriate channels for the required action and approvals.

When setting up your team make sure you have people to cover these crucial areas.

Crisis Alarm Call 

Someone to analyze the situation and signify that a crisis has occurred and to make the alarm call making sure everybody that needs to be notified is aware immediately. 

Crisis Co-Ordinator 

Responsible for making sure the initial alarm call has been received and assigning tasks ensuring the overall strategy is being adhered to and the team are staying on target.

Executive Management

Decide who is going to make the final decisions on an agreed course of action. There must be a clear and defined line of command so that decisions can be made swiftly and efficiently.

Crisis Responder

Making sure that whatever response is decided upon and authorized, it is sent out and published on the agreed platforms.

Crisis Monitor 

Responsible for making sure any continued chatter and ongoing mentions around the crisis happening in real time are spotted and reported back to the team.

Crisis Spokesperson

When the situation requires that someone speak to the media you must have allocated a person or person(s) that will take that responsibility.


If legal expertise is required then you must make sure you have access to the right advice, even if this comes from a trusted outside source.

Due to the size of your business, and the possible nature of any crisis that might come your way, it is possible you will assign a number of people for each of the roles above. 

This might be due to the size of your business but also applicable to ensure 24/7 availability of the right skills, so you are always ready to act when a crisis strikes.


Defining the difference between a problem and a crisis is a critical step in making sure you only press the ‘crisis button’ when it really is needed, and the team members have confidence that when they are called into action it is most definitely for real.

Everyday negative comments posted on social media about your products, services or perhaps a bad customer experience in isolation are problems and need to be dealt with but do not constitute a crisis. 

A simple problem however can escalate into a crisis situation, so it is important that all negative and potentially harmful comments made about your brand on social media are dealt with swiftly and in the right way.

Caution is advised however that being able to directly respond and maintain dialog with all incoming comments may become exhaustive and a strain on resource. Potentially, many times complaints or enquiries can simply be directed to a FAQ page or redirected to sales or another department to deal with offline. 

Understanding what content and assistance is available can help to preserve the time and resource needed to be ready when there is a clear customer service issue that needs direct attention.

Monitor all customer complaints, on every channel, all of the time. When required respond with a quick, empathetic answer. Today’s complainers are potentially tomorrows advocates.

Follow these guidelines to dealing with everyday problems that may occur on social media:

  • Always respond swiftly 

People expect to receive a response from a brand on social media far quicker than any other platform.

Surveys have revealed that to be seen as a top responsive brand on social media no more than sixty minutes should have elapsed before you have responded to a customer problem. 

Committing to a specific response time if possible is ideal to provide increased customer satisfaction. 

  • Be empathetic

There is the old saying that ‘the customer is always right’. This is of course not meant literally but it is vital that you emphasize with your customer and put yourself in their shoes.

Give them the platform to vent their frustrations but always making sure they are aware that you genuinely care and will do all you can to help find a solution.

  • Take the conversation private

On many occasions the best course of action is to take the conversation offline. You do not want the general public to see the full dialog of a potentially messy situation unfolding before them.

Offer alternative methods so the customer can select what is most convenient for them, this may be private messaging, email or a telephone call.

  • Be genuine

At all costs avoid a canned response, nothing can be more impersonal than a copy/paste standard corporate reply to customer issues.

This can actually escalate the issue even more, it is important to provide a personal response. 

Showing that a brand has a personality can be an effective way to diffuse comments. Show the human side to the business, people empathize with other people, not faceless organizations.

  • Provide value

Make your customer feel heard, acknowledge the issue and then do everything you can to provide a solution.

There will be times where you will not be able to offer a solution immediately and that’s ok, just make sure you keep them informed about what you are doing for them. 

By showing willing and actively helping, the customer will feel that they are receiving some value from speaking with you.

  • Seek advice and research if necessary

For all problems and complaints that arise if the resolution is not a simple or obvious one it is vital that you thoroughly research the problem that occurred, seek a resolution internally and then provide a genuine response to what happened.

This will not just provide help for the problem at hand but also enables the business to take steps to prevent similar problems in the future.

  • Offer compensation

Whilst you are dealing with their issue it can often be a good idea to offer them some form of compensation, although best to do this on a 1-2-1 basis and not in the public arena.

Anyone that is prepared to use social media to vent frustration can just as well be someone prepared to publicize any positivity about you also. 

Today’s angry customer can be tomorrows brand advocate, but discretion is advised.


By following these guidelines, you are well placed not just to prevent a crisis occurring but to also increase the chances of turning negative and angry complaints into future powerful customer testimonials.

Most tricky and potentially difficult scenarios that you will encounter will be problems. The way you deal with these problems will ultimately determine how many crises you have to deal with.



Clearly then, dealing with everyday problems that are very likely to occur does not justify the need to notify the crisis management team.

In order to really understand the severity of the problem at hand implementing some form of crisis scale is an ideal way to quickly assess each given situation.

This way you not only avoid sounding the ‘crisis alarm’ unnecessarily but also on a month by month basis it gives you something to analyze the recent activity across social media and the type of problems that may have been occurring.

The scope of a situation that will denote a crisis will differ from company to company and only over time will you be able to create a fitting and concrete description for your own specific needs.

Due to the very different possibilities of scale that will denote a crisis among companies the first thing is to understand is what ‘normal’ looks like.

People are going to complain about you on social media at some point, how many is entirely dependent on the size of your customer base.

For a small business getting over ten tweets in a day complaining about their product or asking questions could constitute a crisis. For a large business this may just be just an everyday occurrence. 

If you have only just set up your social listening tool, then you will not have a base line of normality to work from. 

However, once you do you will be able to see patterns of behavior that will enable you set up alerts and have your staff look out for specific spikes in both sentiment and also direct complaints and questions.

Below is an example of a work flow that could occur that as the situation escalates other staff members get involved to help resolve the situation.

As you can see from the above and as on many occasions it will be the front-line staff that will be first aware of a situation happening.

What might start off as just an everyday problem or complaint other extenuating circumstances may escalate the problem to beyond the scope of just a customer service agent or a social media agent.

They escalate to their immediate manager who, if unable to provide a suitable solution, then makes sure that the first member of the crisis team is notified. This will be the individual that will decide when to make the alarm call and is involved early on to monitor the situation. 

Many occasions may not justify the need for the crisis alarm call to be made if a resolution can be found, however making sure they are involved early on means that if the problem does escalate the early warning alarm can be made at the earliest possible opportunity.

With a suitable escalation procedure in place to help you understand what would constitute a social media crisis you may also want to consider the following characteristics as set out by social media expert Jay Baer, that if all are met, you have a crisis on your hands:

Information asymmetry

When the public knows more than you (your company) about the problem and they are voicing it on social media.

A change from the norm

One or two criticisms and complaints are not a crisis. However, when there are a series of public complaints and issues, different in scope from normal, this is a sign of a crisis.

Dramatic impact on the company

Understanding and evaluating the magnitude of the situation is vital. The nature and impact that the criticisms and complaints could have are what will determine the magnitude of the problem and how potentially damaging they could be to the business. High impact means you have a crisis on your hands.

Not all crises are equal, and they can stem from a variety of different types of problems. These can include product defects, disgruntled employees, unhappy customers, website failure and many more. 

Understanding how and where crises can occur can help train your frontline staff to see early warning signs that might trigger them into notifying their immediate manager quicker than they otherwise would.


Once a crisis is happening it can be tough going, having a checklist to run through to ensure you cover all essential areas can be extremely helpful.

Some of the key points you will want to consider are:

  1. Alert all necessary people including stakeholders and employees
  2. Check your digital channels for content that could be deemed offensive, inappropriate or rude in light of recent events
  3. Pause all scheduled social media posts 
  4. Pause all social media advertising
  5. Pause all email automation
  6. Pause any immediate product updates or changes
  7. Monitor all channels online for discussions about the incident
  8. Make sure you respond to all complaints and comments
  9. Create plan for employee communications
  10. Notify all employees with public presentations that day how to address the crisis, or not to do so

In the first instance of a crisis having hit establishing the core values of the business and your customer value proposition will drive the response that you give.

If you are large company and you have multiple spokespersons and social media mangers that are having to deal with numerous public requests for information, having your core values at the heart of everything will help to keep a consistency of reply.

By reminding everybody of the core values of the business they will be able to at least provide some level of response immediately whilst the official more detailed message and action plan is being decided upon by the crisis management team.

When deciding upon an action plan, things to consider here are:

  • Releasing an internal statement and/or a FAQ document to guide staff on how to respond if approached
  • Making a public statement on all social and online channels
  • Creating a blog post and/or FAQ page
  • Creating an apology video with CEO or high-ranking stakeholder

For the internal document to share amongst your staff be sure to cover the following:

  • Full details of the crisis
  • The actions that the company has already taken
  • The potential implications and impact that the crisis has
  • Confirmation of all the active crisis management team and who to escalate certain issues to
  • Thorough list of potential questions that they may receive and the way they should respond

For your public statement consider the following:

  • Make sure that it reflects your company values as already stated
  • It sounds authentic and human and not a ‘templated’ corporate style response
  • Altered and optimized for each platform that you publish the statement

How you act in responding during a crisis will likely determine your success in the aftermath of whatever it is you are having to deal with.

Having a great team and a really smart plan is great, but if you get the message wrong you may fail miserably.



Once a crisis has been handled and the fire has been put out that should not be the end of the matter.

It is important that you look to do the following:

  1. Host an internal meeting to evaluate the crisis
  2. Discuss future methods on how to prevent another occurrence
  3. Review the crisis management plan and evaluate its effectiveness
  4. Analyze the social media metrics during the crisis period

Again, your social listening tool will be extremely useful for you to assess the lasting damage the crisis has had as well as being able to evaluate what actions and responses you made were the most effective.

The insights that you can gather will enable you to compare the social media activity before the crisis hit, most likely a standard business week, and compare it to after the crisis started.

You will also be able to see how badly your reputation has been affected and look to make any revisions to your strategy in the future.

Understanding the number of negative comments and conversations started and the responses that ‘put out the fire’ quickest will be very useful to your crisis management team.

Measuring the overall brand sentiment both before and after the crisis is also an important metric that stakeholders will be keen to understand to measure the real impact that the crisis has had.


So, there we have it, remember everybody makes mistakes and no matter how well you try to avoid it social media problems and crises can affect everybody.

Have a plan, execute it and own the crisis, do not let the crisis own you.

Don’t try to hide from it, rather tackle any issues head on and you will be able to protect the brand reputation that you have worked so hard for.

Click here for our infographic, a useful graphical representation covering all areas of the this article.

Click here to learn more about Qurate Discover, the social listening tool with a difference that helps you protect your brand online.

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