Sink Or Swim: How To Handle A Social Media Crisis

Written by Kara Burns

Social media is now an integral part of many business' daily operations. It empowers organizations to engage current and prospective customers, provide customer service, promote products and services, increase brand awareness, boost website traffic, generate leads, drive conversions and much more.

Unfortunately, social media also opens the door for marketing / PR crises of epic proportions. If handled properly, though, a social media crisis doesn’t have to be the end of your business. In fact, a properly handled crisis can improve your company's perception, creating brand advocates in the process.

Read on to discover 4 questions every crisis response plan should address.

4 Questions Every Social Media Crisis Response Plan Should Address

Your answers to the following questions can make or break your social media crisis response plan, which is why they should serve as the strategic foundation of your words and actions when dealing with a crisis. And while answering only these questions in advance of a crisis won't guarantee a successful resolution, doing so will help increase the probability of a positive outcome.

Question 1: Who will this crisis impact?

In order to understand the potential impact of a social media crisis, you have to know exactly who it's going to impact, as well as what those individuals have at stake.

It goes without saying that your crisis response plan must account for the needs of your organization, as well as the needs of the human beings who rely on it for their livelihood. However, you must also account for the needs of your organization's owners / investors / donors / shareholders (if you work for a publicly traded company), customers, partners, vendors, local community, etc.

Once you've identified your organization's key stakeholders, you can take things a step farther by establishing guidelines for keeping them informed throughout the crisis.  

Question 2: How will we know what's being said?

Before taking action when faced with a social media crisis, it's imperative that you listen and observe — acting without understanding the complete scope of the issue will likely exacerbate the situation. Plus, you need to know exactly what's being said if you have any chance of changing the conversation.

If you haven't already done so, set up social media monitoring streams to track posts to your organization's social media profiles, direct brand mentions, indirect brand mentions and use of specific hashtags (if applicable). Additionally, we recommend setting up Google Alerts for your organization and / or brand name. Having monitoring tools in place can help you identify a social media crisis in the works, and may even help you prevent the issue from escalating.

HubSpot provides its users with access to easy-to-use social media monitoring tools to help them manage their social media profiles and monitor social chatter. Plus, many social media management platforms - Sprout Social, TweetDeck and Hootsuite, for example - also feature social monitoring tools.

Question 3: Right or wrong, how will we respond?

Your response to a social media crisis needs to be thoughtfully planned and flawlessly executed. When crafting your response to an issue, your response plan should address the following factors:


  • Regardless of the situation, your tone and overall message must align with your brand.
  • Is the crisis severe, or simply dry in nature? If so, your response should be respectful, calculated and mature - injecting humor or sarcasm at the wrong time can spell disaster.
  • Is the crisis less severe, or lighthearted in nature? If so, it may be appropriate - even preferred - to respond in a playful manner. After all, the best way to overcome a crisis is to remind the public that the organization in question is made up of human beings.


  • You never get a second chance at a first crisis management response, so it's vital for your first communication to hit the target.
  • However, silence is not golden during times of crisis. There's a fine line between waiting until all of the facts have been considered and failing to take responsibility / address the issue(s).
  • The most important thing to remember when deciding the best time to respond to a social media crisis is this: the longer you wait, the more damage you'll have to clean up.
  • Also, keep in mind that the most appropriate response may look something like this:
    "We're aware of [the issue], and we're doing everything in our power to address the situation. Please bear with us - we promise to update you as soon as we have more information."


  • You should always be completely transparent when dealing with a social media crisis.
  • If your organization is at fault, you should own up to the issue, offer a sincere apology to the public and outline the steps you plan to take to ensure the issue isn't repeated in the future. If necessary, you should also detail your plans for making things right with everyone hurt as a result of your organization's actions.
  • Any attempt to disguise the truth will ultimately be exposed, intensifying the crisis.

Question 4: How and where will we respond?

With your crisis response plan in place, the only thing left to do is execute. And while it may seem comforting to approach what you hope is the final stage of the crisis, it's important to remember you're far from being in the clear - it's going to take a well orchestrated effort to make things right.

Your execution plan should address:

  • Which social media sites you plan to respond on (your selection(s) may vary based on which social network(s) the majority of the crisis occurred on)
  • Guidelines for responding to, disregarding, hiding / deleting, favoriting or Retweeting responses
  • Team roles: scheduling posts, monitoring direct responses, monitoring direct mentions, monitoring indirect mentions, evaluating online brand sentiment, updating stakeholders, etc.
  • Resources you'll utilize, such as links to your website, press releases, photos, videos, customer service contacts, email update enrollments, etc.