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Crisis Management

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Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

Indicators of a social media crisis

A social media crisis is an unexpected event that results in an extraordinarily high volume of negative conversation about the brand in a short time period. There are different types of crises. Some of them can be prepared for or addressed early. Others will spring up out of the blue with little or no warning.

So, what are the indicators of a social media crisis?

  • Social media blunders. For example, your social media account could get hacked into, or someone might accidentally post the wrong thing on your account or respond to a customer in the wrong way. You need to have a plan in place for all those things.
  • Viral customer complaints. If a complaint does go viral, you need to think about how you would respond to that and who would need to be involved.
  • Campaign backlashes. There may be backlashes against your campaign. There have definitely been campaigns that people thought were sexist in nature, but the company didn’t see it that way. It’s very common for a company to experience backlashes when it is trying to move into a different market and it just doesn’t understand the dynamics of that market very well. So have a plan in place for that.

Crisis flowchart

A crisis flowchart is essential in providing a systematic approach as to how different crisis situations should be dealt with. It specifies which person in the organization should be contacted in different crisis scenarios. This can help to provide consistency among customer service teams.

Crisis preparation

It is important to implement clear guidelines explaining which types of messages agents can respond to and which require crisis escalation procedures. Furthermore, it is important to conduct quarterly simulations and drills as part of crisis preparation. You need to be ready to act if and when you face a crisis. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

An effective crisis management plan can be developed by following these tips:

  • Create a holding message as quickly as possible when a potential social crisis emerges – customers look for a very quick reaction to issues over social media.
  • When an issue escalates, draft responses to different types of customer messages for agents to use as template examples.
  • Establish clear criteria for when a message has to be escalated to PR or Legal.
  • Create a schedule outlining who exactly will be responsible for dealing with these escalating messages at any given time, to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

Reducing the risk of social media crises

Social media can act as an early warning system of a crisis for the organization, when properly monitored.

To reduce the risk of a social media crisis:

  • Moderate agent responses. Make sure that agent responses are moderated somehow.
  • Control system access. It’s likely that you will be implementing new technologies and tools in your organization to help you deliver customer service though social channels. Make sure the right controls are in place. Access is critical, but you have to ensure that you are in control of who is within the system and who is not, who can post things and who cannot.
  • Implement a proactive review process. Have a good review process in place, so that you’re constantly getting better and better at dealing with customer complaints.


To deal with a crisis effectively, you first need to determine the type of crisis you are dealing with. Then use the following techniques:

  • Rapid response. Focus all your efforts on responding quickly.
  • Demonstrate transparency. It’s good to keep customers in the loop. We all like transparency, particularly when there’s a crisis going on with the companies that we’re purchasing from or that we’re thinking about purchasing from.
  • Unified company position. A unified company position is really important because there are lots of ways of communicating with customers now. There could be a press release, a marketing campaign, or your customer service channels could talk to customers. There needs to be a consensus about what the company position is.
  • Crisis procedure adherence. You need to stick to the crisis procedures you have in place.
  • Reserve team mobilization. You might want to have an extra team on hand that you can mobilize in the event of a crisis. Airlines use this approach a lot. If there are massive delays to flights, they have teams in place that are ready to go and speak to customers and rebook them on flights. Otherwise, customers are going to get stranded, which would be a service nightmare.
  • Senior leadership intervention. Make sure that there’s an escalation process in place, with the right mechanisms for engaging senior leaders. So be aware of issues that need to be brought to senior leadership, and know how and when to get them involved in a crisis.

Auditing performance post-crisis

A post-crisis review is important to evaluate the performance of your crisis management plan and make refinements where necessary.

A formal analysis of what was done right, what was done wrong, what could be done better next time, and how to improve various elements of crisis preparedness is another must-do activity for any crisis communications team.

Furthermore, it is important to retain a record of all communications surrounding the crisis, external and internal, in order to perform analysis toward improving crisis management procedures, as well as to facilitate any subsequent legal activity or audit.

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Christian Polman

Christian Polman is a General Manager at Eone, Europe. He has driven digital marketing strategy through analytics and research to solve strategic and operating challenges and develop business plans for Fortune 100 brands.

Data protection regulations affect almost all aspects of digital marketing. Therefore, DMI has produced a short course on GDPR for all of our students. If you wish to learn more about GDPR, you can do so here:

DMI Short Course: GDPR

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