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This week’s blog, Managing a Social Media Crisis Through Public Relations, was written by Clearbridge Branding Agency’s Rowan University intern, Emily Kowalenko.

Social media is a powerful outlet to market your business or product; however, social media can also harm you during a crisis. A social media crisis is when something has the potential to significantly harm your brand’s reputation and reception through social media. Therefore, it is essential to have your public relations team follow your company’s crisis plan for the specific issue during a crisis. Every company should develop multiple crisis management strategies to prevent planning in a middle of an active crisis. So, what steps consist of a typical public relations media crisis plan?

Create an internal alert and response flowchart 

During a social media crisis, chaos and confusion can emerge from employees due to an overflow of comments on your company’s social media pages. However, effectively managing a social media crisis through public relations will help your employees feel less overwhelmed. Creating an internal alert and response flowchart provides guidance to each employee in letting them know who is responsible for each aspect of handling the crisis. The flowchart may also include preapproved social media posts.

Pause all outgoing social media posts and find the facts

Before engaging with the public online, switch to monitor mode. Switching to monitor mode allows your company time to gather the facts on how the crisis arose, the current rumors, and actual crisis-related events. Your company must act quickly; however, it is imperative to send a message out that is factual and reassuring.

Creating your message 

The first step to effectively manage a social media crisis through public relations is to acknowledge the problem. Inform your audience you know what is going on, then follow with a factual statement. By acknowledging the problem, you avoid a flood of comments asking if you are aware of the issue. The factual statement is the opportunity to explain to the audience what you currently know and what you are planning to do based on facts and statements approved by your legal team and public relations team.

Respond to social media comments and concerns

Create a FAQs crisis post or hashtag that can be used or followed for accurate information on the problem. FAQs pages are a vital way to effectively manage a social media crisis through public relations. By taking the initiative in creating a FAQ or hashtag, it provides you control of false rumors or claims. Your response method should include factual details about the crisis, images if needed, contact information, and the company’s plans to address the problem. After posting your FAQs page or hashtag with information, the next step is to respond to comments with the preapproved messages or refer people to either your company’s email, phone number, or website.

When responding with preapproved messages, ensure the response sounds honest and genuine. The audience will not trust or take your response seriously if they cannot hear your concern and honesty about the crisis. When responding to messages, focus on the leading social media channels your company uses and your target audience. Reach out to reporters or journalists to let them know what is happening to prevent falsified articles based on rumors.

Keep watch and monitor the crisis

While it is vital to continue responding to comments and concerns, monitoring the problem is essential. Assign a separate social media team or person within your internal alert and response flowchart to solely monitor any mention of your company or the crisis online. By doing this, you can accurately gauge the public’s response to your company’s responses and actions to the crisis and adjust your responses accordingly.

Be prepared for future crises

Once the storm has passed, reflect upon how effectively your company’s public relations crisis planned worked. Have your crisis management team document the coverage of the crisis, including online traffic, posts, and emails. Was your staff well prepared for the crisis? Does the crisis plan need any adjustments? Did the online crisis merge offline into newspapers?

Social media is a powerful tool to use; nevertheless, it is imperative always to have your public relations team ready to go anytime with prepared crisis plans for any feasible outcome.