What Should We Do First When A Social Media Crisis Hit?

Social media has become an increasingly important part of today’s marketing strategy. It is often perceived as a cheap and effective way to promote a business. It is the best thing since sliced bread — that is until a social media crisis hit.

First of all, we need to determine if there is a true crisis at hand. Let’s consider a contrarian view. Could this “crisis” be helpful? There is the saying “no publicity is bad publicity”. This can be particularly true for small brands. Any publicity is going to bring the awareness of an unknown brand. Even if the publicity is around a controversial subject, at least now people know that we exist. Who knows, people may even take our side.

Sometimes, such controversies can even kick start a brand. Think pop stars and rappers. Our first memory of a nowadays famous pop icon could very well be a controversial, or negative, one. Nevertheless, the controversy piqued our interests, and we Googled them. Eventually, we got to know them, which would have been the first step toward buying from them.

Being controversial can be a great thing. Any new idea, a truly new idea, is bound to contradict the existing doctrines and create controversies. A brand stands above a commodity because it stands for something. A Victoria Secret bra is not your Walmart bra because it’s specifically designed and made to make you feel sexy. However, there is a downside to this. To stand for something automatically means you are not going to stand for something else. For example, a Victoria Secret bra is not cheap. A real brand cannot be everything to everyone. This is not a new concept in marketing, but it’s not a concept that’s always practiced.

The unfortunate reality is that most marketers set out to create messages that offend the fewest people. They’re playing not to lose… If you’re not generating a negative reaction from someone, you’re probably not fascinating anyone. — Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate

Having negative comments on social media may actually mean we’re doing something right! One of my favorite marketing books is Primal Branding by Patrick Hanlon, in which Patrick discussed the importance of non-believers. When a brand stands truly for something, we end up creating believers and non-believers, fans and haters. Haters gonna hate. To some extent, negative comments on social media should be expected.

In fact, an all positive presence is not believable. We cannot please everyone all the time — it’s simply impossible. Therefore, our audience can forgive some negative reviews or comments — as long as it’s few compared to the positive ones. Therefore, again, the first step is to assess if we truly have a social media crisis at hand. A negative comment by itself does not become a crisis.

However, when a negative comment gains traction, a crisis may be forming. How we handle negative comments can influence if such comments would gain a following or not.

First of all, the negative comments may not need to be addressed by the brand at all. Sometimes, our fans would address them for us, if we already have a loyal fan base. Someone may complain about the high price tag, and our fans may come to rescue by highlighting the high quality instead. This is the best case scenario.

If it isn’t something our fans can resolve for us, we would need to take actions ourselves. We want to appear to be sensitive toward the concern. After all, the customers are always right. Others are observing our reactions toward any complaints. Therefore, always respond to the comment in a timely and dignified manner. Yet at the same time, we don’t want a negative conversation to take up any more air. If possible, we would want to take this conversation away from the public view. One good way is to encourage the person to contact us directly (or to contact a customer services hotline so we can better understand the problem and where the person can get immediate help). Also, consider using direct messaging, particularly if the comment seems like a rant.

According to Yelp33% of users are more likely to upgrade their review if they receive a personalized message within 24 hours.

Wade Lombard of Square Cow Movers in Austin, Texas also shared his thoughts on how to handle negative Yelp reviews at a workshop:

  • STOP: Don’t respond immediately. Waiting a moment or two can make all the difference in how your response is perceived.
  • DROP: Take the high road and eliminate anything that might sound argumentative or defensive.
  • ROLL: You can’t please 100% of consumers, 100% of the time. Work to mend valid concerns and know you did everything you could.

So, when a social media crisis hits your brand, the first step is to STOP. Take a moment to assess the situation. It may not be as bad as it first appears. If it is a problem, take a breath and face the situation with dignity.

If we have done a good job in defining our brand, negative comments are unavoidable. Whether or not such comments are damaging depends on how such comments relate to the positive comments. Therefore, the best step toward resolving a social media crisis is to prevent a social media crisis.

  1. Have a social media listening protocol: Social media listening is to pay attention to the conversations about our brand on social media. This means monitoring channels beyond our direct control. Hashtags or Google alerts can help us keep track of conversations online. Set up your social media profiles to send automatic alerts for any comments. Having a social media listening protocol would help us identify potential problems. This gives us the opportunity to react, if appropriate, before a lone negative comment becomes a full-blown crisis. This is why it’s important to identify a social team from the start. Team members would be responsible for maintaining our own channels and to react to any social media issues as needed.
  2. Start with having stellar customer service: People complain when they feel like they have been treated poorly. Providing a good product supported by stellar customer service prevents customer complaints, online or offline.
  3. Promote positive public relations: One negative comment in a sea of positive raves has very little power. Therefore, it’s important for us to seed positive comments on the social media before any negative comments surface. Engage with our followers online. Create positive conversations. Invite positive reviews from happy customers.

Therefore, the best way to handle a social media crisis is to prevent a social media crisis. The best way to do that is to keep offering value and treating our customers with respect. If we create happy customers, they aren’t likely to create any crisis.

About Jeannie Chan

Jeannie Chan founded Curious. She is a brand strategist who takes on business problems big or small. She inspires organizations to raise the questions no one dared to ask or thought to ask. She has ignited new thinking and delivered growth to Fortune 500 companies, startups, and nonprofits. Jeannie loves espressos, and lives in New York City with her two cats and her beloved. Learn more about Jeannie at
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