A social media crisis may often seem like an apocalyptic situation. While organisations and companies will never be able to fully prevent a crisis from emerging, they will however have the power to systematically handle a social media crisis drastically reducing it's negative impact and damage.

There are three key phases in any social media crisis. They occur in the following sequence:

  1. Pre-crisis - Before any signs of a crisis exists, everything is peaceful like a busy Smurf village going about its own business. 
  2. Crisis - During a crisis, pandemonium ensues with both panic and stress levels at an all time high. 
  3. Post crisis – Return to sanity. The situation is still tense, but all seems to be under control.    



Phase 1 - Pre-crisis

The majority of efforts invested should happen during the pre-crisis phase. This is when a comprehensive plan can be put in place along with any processes, tools or infrastructure needed. Crisis is a time of urgent action, not planning.

Some of activities that need to be considered are:

  • Appointment of a social media crisis management team.
  • Development of detailed escalation and reaction plans.
  • Deployment of listening tools and any supporting infrastructure.


Phase 2 – Crisis

There is a huge tendency to be extremely reactive during a crisis. Instead, the best approach is to take time (no matter how limited) to assess the overall crisis situation from various standpoints. This helps determine the best approach to managing it.  Here are some steps to take:

  1. Understand what is the root cause of the crisis. How did it come about? Is it the result of an unforeseen service failure, or could it be a sign of a bigger issue at stake? Social media is rarely the instigator of a crisis, but rather an amplifier of pre-existing problems. Understanding the real cause of a crisis is one step in the right direction toward managing it more efficiently and victoriously.
  2. Assess the severity and urgency of the crisis. Once the crisis has been correctly identified and classified, an appropriate reaction and response plan can be selected for effective use. Understand that not all crises are equal. Here are some useful classifications and recommended response timings:
  • Attacks  - Premeditated attacks with malicious intent (within 1 hour)
  • Outages – Service failures that result in life and health risks (within 6 hours)
  • Complaints – Service and product failures that causes inconvenience (within 1 day)
  • Queries – Prospects inquiring (within 3 days)
  • Comments – Opinions and sentiments of consumers and public (within 1 week)
  1. Empathise with the consumers, appreciate their situation and motivations. It is interesting to know that consumers approach social media platforms with customer service issues often as a last resort, and not the first. When they finally do, it is usually the result of frustration with traditional customer service channels, and they want to make their voice heard by galvanising public support to coerce the organisation into action.
  2. Respond by channeling all crisis related communications to a single crisis communications destination. Responses should be on the same platforms that the crisis occurred.  For example, a crisis occurring on YouTube should not be responded to in a press release distributed only to the printed press. All responses must be conducted in a humble, transparent and professional manner.


Phase 3 – Post crisis

All too often, marketers and brand owners tend to let their guard down when some semblance of sanity returns.

The resources spent managing a crisis needs to be replenished and the supporting infrastructure readied for the next social media crisis.  It is complacency to think that a next crisis will not happen anytime soon. Crisis always happens when we least expect it.

Lastly, everyone involved should work out plans to prevent a similar occurrence in future. It is through investing in such vigilance that any social media crisis plan becomes more robust.

The key to managing a social media crisis is to plan for it, prepare for the worst, but wish for the best. Remember that the Chinese characters for ‘crisis’ contains both danger as well as opportunity. Any brand that is able to prepare for the challenges of a social media crisis should also be benefit from the opportunities that builds an even stronger brand than ever before.


Article by Ryan Lim, Founder & Business Director at Blugrapes. Ryan has a comprehensive 15 years of experience in digital marketing, bringing many companies to the next level in marketing. Email him at ryan@blugrapes.com or visit www.blugrapes.com.