A row of Jenga blocks tipping over on each other like dominoes.

How to Best Leverage Social Media During a Brand Crisis

Perhaps it’s because news travels faster and farther than ever before, but it seems as though every week there’s a new company facing some sort of crisis. Whether it’s Pepsi creating offensive advertisements, Uber stumbling into the middle of a political controversy, Bill O’Reilly’s alleged history of sexual harassment or United Airlines’ forceful removal of a passenger, there has been no shortage of crises in 2017. As a business owner or executive, you may not be able to control whether or not you run into a crisis, but you can control how you respond. In these situations, social media can be one of your greatest allies or worst enemies.

Importance of Responding on Social Media

More than ever before, the American public holds companies accountable for ethical and moral decisions and expect some response following a crisis situation. Whether you love social media or hate it, there’s no denying that you can communicate with a much larger potential audience on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platform than just about any other medium. If your company wants to issue an apology, offer a defense or simply release a statement about an event, you would be hard pressed to find a more effective medium than social media.

An infographic detailing the percentage of the American public that has at least one social media profile.

Just consider that over 80 percent of the American population has at least one social media profile,[1] with 68 percent of the country’s adults using Facebook.[2] And, whether you want to or not, today’s consumers expect brands to have active social media profiles – this expectation spans millennials, Generation X and baby boomers.[3]

It’s also important to realize that social media is the primary news source for a lot of Americans. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 62 percent of U.S. adults get their news on social media.[4] Even further, other surveys have found that people ages 18-24 use social media as their main news source.[5]

How to Effectively Use Social Media to Put Out Fires

You can be the most careful business leader who monitors everything that your staff does, and bad things could still happen. It may not be on the scale of the examples mentioned earlier, but at any point in time, you or someone on your staff can make a bad decision that leads to controversy, negative press and an alienation of your audience. If and when that happens, keep these tips in mind to make sure that social media is your friend rather than an enemy:

  • Don’t Delay: Silence speaks volumes. Staying quiet and hoping a problem will just go away is not a viable strategy. One of the biggest mistakes companies make is waiting too long before responding to a crisis situation. Delaying will make it so you have little control over the narrative. The best strategy is to respond to a crisis on social media before your followers even know anything happened. This may not always be possible, but the longer you wait to respond, the more misinformation and negative press you will have to address.
  • Be Informative, Not Defensive: If you have nothing to hide then there’s nothing to be defensive about. When addressing negative press on social media, the smart strategy is to stay away from defensive comments and stick to providing more information to illuminate the public. By offering extra information, you gain greater control of the story and you appear to be honest and forthcoming.
  • Stay Positive: The controversy has already happened. It’s time to move forward. Responding to all of your negative criticism on social media is not going to help anything. Instead, take a positive approach and focus on what you’re doing to fix the problem and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Playing the blame game or complaining about media coverage will not earn you any sympathy.
  • A smiling male working on a laptop. Be Honest: The cover-up is often worse than the crime. Don’t try to hide behind semantics and posturing. Don’t expect that any misinformation you offer won’t soon be uncovered. Be truthful about what happened, your role in what happened and your disappointment about it. In an age of carefully worded press releases and scripted statements, people appreciate genuine communication. If you get caught in one lie, it will be easy to assume that everything else you’ve said is at least questionable.
  • The Media Can be Your Friend: Though there are billions of people on social media, many of them will not see your message because they don’t check in daily and because your posts only reach a small percentage of your audience.[6] But with many journalists using social media regularly and relying on it as a credible source, your social media response to a crisis will likely be spread through traditional and modern media sources. Unless it is 100 percent warranted, do not launch attacks at any members of the media either. This is a battle that you don’t want to get into because it is very difficult to win.

While we certainly hope that your company never faces a crisis, it’s important that you prepare a contingency plan in the unfortunate event that it does happen. That plan should almost certainly include social media, as it is one of the most effective communication tools available. But just as social media can be a great asset during these times, it can also be a great detriment. Mary Pomerantz Advertising is happy to guide your social media strategy during good times and bad. Speak to one of our specialists today by contacting us at 732-214-9600.