Using Social Media for Crisis and Issues Management

One of the biggest fears decision makers have in using social media is “what happens when things go wrong?”

This is a valid concern, but it doesn’t have to spell disaster for your business, company or organisation; and it shouldn’t dissuade you from using social media to communicate. In fact if you are distinctly silent on your usually buzzing online feeds, it will reflect poorly on your ability to manage your brand’s public interface. You CAN use social media to your advantage during crisis and issues management: to communicate effectively, quickly and build confidence in your product and company.

The 7 steps to successful Crisis and Issues Management in social media are:

1. Communicate clearly and honestly.

By looking at your crisis or issue as an opportunity (rather than a disaster), you are actively protecting your brand and image. This is not the time to put a spin on any internal or external communications: be clear, be honest and be timely. Tell your staff before you tell the world. Acknowledge the issue. Don’t pretend you don’t have an issue or try to cover it up or it will backfire and cause you more time and effort than being  proactive will. (Think #QantasPRFAIL)

“Hi all: some of you are reporting issues with our X product. We’re looking into it right now. Stay tuned, we’ll post updates as info becomes available.”

2. Communicate early.

Social media is a platform where time is not relative to scheduled business hours. Show empathy early: don’t wait to be forced into an apology, if your product is causing concern address it head on. Communicating early may also allow you to gauge the extent of the issue: preliminary messages such as:

“Our tech guru’s are at work trying to get the gremlins out of the machine: we’re sorry you can’t enjoy X product right now but hang in there, we’ll give you an update shortly”

“We’re receiving reports that X service is down in X location – if you’re in this area and are affected/or not, please let us know. Our techs are enroute”

“We’re about to launch a voluntary product recall for X. We won’t be taking any chances with your safety- please return the product to your nearest store for a full refund”

3. Communicate often.

If your crisis or incident is likely to protracted over several hours, days or longer – you need to keep your audience informed via status updates. They don’t have to be long, but they do have to be honest and clear. Offer alternative solutions to your customers were possible or give them avenues to direct complaints or queries offline.

“These gremlins are tough buggers! Our tech guru’s are working through the night to get the system back online”

“We understand if the outage has caused you inconvenience and we  sincerely apologise. You can always visit a store to conduct urgent business – our staff will be there until 9pm tonight to ensure you can get any spares you need”

4. Communicate via interaction.

Consider how you will respond to those who communicate to you online: a simple Facebook ‘Like’ on a post may be sufficient whilst @replies or employing the #hashtag may also be effective. Gauge the level of anger of your social audience but don’t be drawn in to immature or retaliatory conversations by trolls or online vigilantes. Setup keyword and #hashtag monitoring to quickly identify where the social conversation is heading- software such as Hootsuite has these features built in and can easily be displayed as a dashboard of your social media streams for quick reference.

If you are being inundated with @replies and posts, broadcast an all-audience message acknowledging this and reassuring your audience that their feedback is being read and taken seriously.

“Thank you everyone for communicating your thoughts on X. While we can’t respond to every message, we value each customer and will keep you up-to-date as more information comes to hand.”

5. Communicate your plan, and next steps.

What are you doing to remedy the situation? Is there a ‘fix’ on the horizon? Now is a good time to provide some explanation about what has happened (noting any information security concerns) and you may be able to employ humour to lighten up a situation out of your control. For example:

“We didn’t realise our server couldn’t swim until this morning’s downpour flooded our basement: we’re moving to backup systems now.”

“One slightly submerged server for sale … sorry folks, we’re a little wet right now but we’ll be with you shortly!”  <Cue funny incident picture if appropriate >

“Right folks, we have a solution in the works! Stay tuned for an update on when we’ll be back online”

6. Communicate your resolution.

The words your customers or clients want to hear are “We’ve found a fix, and it will take X time long to happen.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep: if you have communicated a timeline for a fix be very sure it will be able to be achieved.

“Gremlins busted, severs rebooting – we’ll be online in 1 hour! Thanks for hanging in there with us”

Think about ways you can ‘make-it-up’ to your customers. If you were running a juice bar for example and had to shut because of a power failure, get creative:

“Sorry we couldn’t make your favourite juice this morning, tomorrow’s juice is on @energycompany”


“You told us that our product wasn’t what you expected. To thank you, please accept our offer of X. Click here for details <insert tiny url>

7. Communicate your debrief.

“We’d like you to meet our computer whiz Raj. He fixed our X issue and we’re back online! Thanks Raj!” <Cue photo>

What are you going to do to make sure this event doesn’t happen again? Customers and clients will forgive one product or service fail, but won’t be so forgiving the second time around. By being honest and authentic with your audience you can build trust and loyalty to your brand. Start spinning that PR machine and issuing impersonal, corporate speak statements and you’re  be self-generating a second wave of complaints.

Did you notice all of the steps started with ‘Communicate’? This is because a crisis or incident isn’t the time to stay silent. Depending on your business, your customers will want to know how they will be affected (if at all). The media may take an interest:  your shareholders certainly will! Don’t ignore the people that keep you in business. Communicate your way to success.

Not all social media managers and public relations advisers are equal in this space: crisis communications and issues management is a skill learned over many years and many PR challenges. Ensure your company’s social media plan includes communicating during these types of events and what resources will come into play in the event of a product failure. Consistency across all your messaging streams is critical to online success: make sure all your outgoing messages are singing the same tune.