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8 steps to avoid a trial by social media

Change Makers

8 steps to avoid a trial by social media


Brands can spend years carefully crafting a reputation, only to have one poorly managed crisis see them enter the cancel culture discourse. Clarissa Harris outlines eight ways brands can avoid a trial by social media.

Take the 4 billion global social media users, coupled with endless opportunities for viral content creation and a changing political landscape, and it’s no surprise why more brands are finding themselves on trial by social media when faced with a crisis. 

What constitutes a crisis?  

Simply put, a crisis represents any activity that potentially hurts your brand’s reputation or ability to do business. Besides events beyond our control such as natural disasters, economic collapses  and pandemics, other issues being raised online include serious product or service criticism,  negative staff behaviour, insensitive comments and severe public backlash. 

While some brands may choose to ignore user @trollmole88’s online complaints about a brand’s customer service at the local shopping centre, it’s important to remember all concerns should be taken as seriously as they would be if raised offline. Because ultimately these are the exact small incidents that can easily escalate and turn into a toxic cancel culture campaign. 

The consequential damage for a brand is no joke. It can seriously muddy its reputation, dissipate a hard-earned customer base and ultimately hurt sales. Never before has it been as easy to go viral for all the right reasons as it is for all the wrong ones. Things can go from 0 to 100 real fast and vice versa.  

That’s why good crisis management practices on social media are non-negotiable for brands in the digital age. Crisis management is no longer just reserved for skyscraper corporations dealing with million-dollar lawsuits and celebrities caught in a pickle. The harsh reality is that a crisis can affect anyone at any time.  

Help! What to do if things go haywire? 

From a technical error that has the potential to escalate into a full-blown boycott to feeling like the entire internet is against you because an intern posted a not safe for work (NSFW) Instagram story on the company page, here are eight crisis management steps to take when entering the Twitter (or digital) battlefield.

1. First things first, remain calm and don’t panic.
Educate yourself about the crisis from reliable sources and reach out to your community manager so you get the full picture. If the crisis is in its infancy, take the conversation offline by requesting the user’s contact details via a DM so you can reach them directly and diffuse the situation.

2. Pause all scheduled content.
Review existing content and the language so it fits within the context of your current brand landscape. If irrelevant, save for another time. Although forward planning may seem ideal, ad-hoc content will allow flexibility should you need to make changes fast. The last thing you want is a post showing up at an inappropriate time. 

3. Publicly acknowledge what is going on and that you are working on a response.  Communicate immediate information clearly without hysteria. Don’t engage in cancel culture or negativity. It’s not helpful. If you don’t have an answer, be honest and record user contact details so you can investigate and respond with the best response. 

4. Build your plan.
Internally review your business and how the crisis affects you. Outline your key priorities into action points with roles, responsibilities and deadlines. If you’re doing this alone, don’t hesitate to bring in an external crisis management team or consultant. 

5. Assign a crisis team or spokesperson.
Select the best people within your organisation to develop a master FAQs list to assist with responding to enquiries. Ensure your social media community manager or team is adequately trained and staffed to manage responses.

6. Develop key messages.
Keep them clear and honest and always lead with empathy first. Share these with your team and always refer back to them in your communications. If in doubt,  just wait before responding to enquiries prematurely. It’s okay to pause and listen.  

7. Execute your plan.
Ensure your crisis team actions the plan in a timely manner. Continue monitoring the crisis and reflect on your responses. Assess the impact on your business and adapt your plan if circumstances change.  

8. Review and learn.
A crisis rarely resolves overnight. Ensure you keep informed of the changing landscape and review your actions regularly. Some questions to ask are what did we do really well? What could you have done better? Is there a way to adapt your learnings into future planning? Good crisis management can be a growth opportunity for both your team and the brand.


Clarissa Harris is the director of True Tribe.


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