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Social Media Crisis Management

March 24, 2017


You’ve spent time and money building your brand.  You have carefully honed messages, trained employees, engaged marketing professionals and considered every detail of the customer experience in order to make sure your commitment to excellence and service is represented every day.


And then it happens.  That innocent pop fly into the stands takes a bad hop, and you are facing a crisis.  Yes, I am talking about social media.  If we have been lucky enough to avoid the experience ourselves, we have certainly heard or read about it.


  • An employee posts a photo of a receipt with insulting comments about a client.

  • A customer takes to Twitter to describe a particularly bad service experience.

  • A manager decides to respond to an online company post….at 2:30 a.m.

  • An executive behaves badly in public, in front of a camera.


The list goes on. 


Suddenly, you are propelled from a normal day to a full blown publicity crisis, with a difference.  This one seems to spread faster than anything before and is fueled by incendiary language.


Years ago, a global food company was only starting to develop a social media plan and was using its Facebook and Twitter accounts to spread the word about new products.  The company didn’t realize that global environmental activists reposted its  videos to accuse the company of contributing to deforestation and wildlife endangerment. The repostings continued for a long time, and the videos went viral with much global embarrassment to the brand.  The good news is that the brand moved to partner with the activists to improve its corporate responsibility, but not after a serious dip in brand perception that required expensive repair. 


It is rare to find a company that adequately plans for these types of problems.  Many companies do a passable job of considering other types of more “traditional” crises:  product problems, delivery issues, poor financial results, earthquakes, tornadoes.  But what of this new era of unnatural disasters that are often of our own making?


If you have a crisis management plan, you know that there are three elements:  plan, plan and plan.  There is no substitute for anticipating problems and knowing who is in charge and what are the next steps.  The same goes for social media crises.  But the biggest new factor is awareness.  Over and over, the examples of companies that demonstrated inadequate or poor responses have two things in common.  They did not see it coming and they did not have a plan.


Awareness:  The key factor in awareness is to have a social monitoring capability.  Depending on the size of your company, it can be as small as alerts set to your online accounts and monitored by responsible individuals.  But with the cost of social monitoring software dropping, it is more advisable to implement a tool or suite of tools that tracks the use of your brand name associated with opinions and perceptions.  These tools can be set with thresholds to alert customer service or even executives to spikes in negative comments or exceptional increases in sharing of images and posts.  Because knowledge is power, effective social listening capabilities can give you a leg up when responding.


Have a plan:  When it comes to responding, consider that crisis management has many of the attributes of the hospital ER.  Your first move is to “stabilize the patient.”  You are not initially trying to solve the problem, waiting for all the proper research behind the incident or hedging your position until more is known.  Your first move is to respond with compassion and empathy.  People will likely remember the tone of your response much more than they will remember the details of the incident, especially if you misfire. 


Recently, a small fashion brand garnered great loyalty.  It was so loved that an online resale service, dedicated to the brand, began to pose some competition.  One night, for reasons we can only imagine, the CEO of the fashion brand posted a snarky comment on the resale site criticizing customers who would want to buy used versions of her fashions.  She posted it at 2:30 a.m.  By morning, by which I mean the work day, monitoring of the brand had clearly shown how quickly these things gain visibility. The CEO apologized citing the hour of the post and making it clear how grateful she was to all the fans of her brand.  Her rapid response and personal approach actually caused her to gain a few thousand followers.


Have a meeting.  Discuss the possible events that could rise from negative visibility to your brand on social media.  Play out the scenarios.  Have a team with clear responsibilities and a communications vehicle between team members.  Draft sample responses on which everyone can agree, including the words and tone.  Be sure that the way you respond represents your brand, even when things are tough.


With a good approach to social monitoring, a proper plan, and a team that knows the steps to take, you can protect the brand you already built.



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