Tips to handle a PR crisis on Social Media

From ticket servers falling over, to event caterers failing to supply promised, free hamburgers, from artists cancelling shows an hour before their set, to calls for a nationwide boycott of a product, a PR crisis is rarely a pleasant experience, least of all when the bulk of it plays out on Social Media.

After igniting online, being liberally doused in retweets, likes and shares, the issue births a lynch mob and becomes a runaway inferno, engulfing every conversation in its path. So, how can you stop it? Well, the short answer is you can’t,  you just have to let the crisis follow the pattern until it dies down. Yet, while you can’t immediately extinguish the blaze, you can take away the petrol cans.

Each crisis is different and thus requires a unique approach, despite this, there are a few tactical steps that will make this time easier.

1. Keep calm

Arguably the most important thing to do when faced with the impending onslaught of a Social Media lynch mob, is to remain calm and keep your head. Panicking will lead to hasty decisions which often make things exponentially worse. 

Keeping a cool head will help you determine the extent of the problem and find the most effective solution.

2. Assess the problem

First things first, research the scale of the crisis and determine what kind of response it merits – is this code orange, code red or code dead?

Identify the issue, calculate the number of people talking about it and identify the significance of those participating in the conversation. A few questions that need answers right now are:

  1. Is the issue outside of your control?
  2. Has this issue come up in the past and what did you say about it?
  3. Has it been picked up by mainstream media yet?
  4. Are your naysayers credible? Are they known for trolling brands online?
  5. What is the frequency of the conversation? ie A new tweet every hour, or every 30 seconds?
  6. Who or what was the source?

3. Respond

Once you have your answers to the above, you can craft your response. The best responses own their guilt, list immediate steps that have been taken and are brief, factual and sincere. This is not the time to make excuses nor look for others to blame. The worst thing you can do is fob the Internet off with insincere attempts at pseudo-transparency – ironically they can see through this a mile away.

Assemble all the necessary stakeholders in the room and get their buy-in on the official response before you post it online.

4. Seed it

If you’re dealing with anything from a code red to code dead crisis, then it’s valuable to have some respected Social Media brand advocates in your corner. Hopefully you’ve been building up these relationships and can identify your sincere advocates, because when you need a relationship, it’s too late to go out and build one.

Give them a call, explain what’s going on and point them in the direction of the response. Some will spread the message out of the kindness of their hearts, some will ask for money and ultimately it’s up to you to determine whether the budget caters for this kind of thing.

5. Follow Up

Now that you’ve got your response up and running, it’s time to start following up with your customers. Respond to each tweet and mention received – this right here is your golden opportunity for positive PR. You’ll be praised for your swift response, your sincerity and applauded for taking the time to respond to each and every customer. Strike a fine balance between sticking to the official response, and not sounding formulaic. Remember, it is not wise to copy-paste your way out of this

6. Customer > Antagonizer

You’ll notice that once you’ve seeded your response, the lynch mob mentality will slowly start to abate and logic will begin to out. Rational voices who have heard both sides of the story will enter the fray and the online community will self-moderate. It can be quite terrifying getting to this point, but if you’ve followed the above, been honest and sincere and acknowledged and righted your wrongs where possible, it will eventually arrive. Cling to this knowledge when you’re staring at an average frequency of 12 tweets per minute. The storm will pass. 

Don’t rise up for antagonisers who cannot be reasoned with. Apply the 3 strikes and they’re out rule and after 3 attempts, abandon the cause. Do not waste time that could have been spent on a customer who actually does affect your profit margin. 

7. Monitor

There’s a pattern to these lynch mobs online and though the flames do subside eventually, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the conversation. Track any hashtags associated with the crisis, as well as any particular influential voices taking part in the conversation. Monitoring will keep you informed of any new developments and allow you to pinpoint triggers for online conversation spikes (e.g radio interviews, newspaper columns) which you can then respond to on a case by case basis.


Do not ignore the problem, this does not make it go away.

Own your mistake.

Do not lie, the Internet is the FBI and you are Sepp Blatter.

Spend your time on customers that affect the bottom line.

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