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Handling a Social Media Crisis - the Bad and the Good

The steps you should and shouldn't take when dealing with a crisis.
How to handle a social media crisis

A few years ago, when it came to a company’s online reputation, it referred to their website. Nowadays, due to the rising and ever-growing popularity of social media, word of mouth is more prominent than ever before!

This, unfortunately, also means that anything negative said by anyone about your company on a social media platform has the potential to blow completely out of proportion, put your current and prospective clients off and reach millions of people from all over the world. This is a social media crisis – and the way you handle it can either bring out the best or the worst in your company or brand. 

The Right Steps to Take

  1. Plan ahead. Long before a crisis even arises (or if it ever will), it’s important to have some form of crisis management strategy in place. Meet with all of the relevant employees and come to an agreement as to what action would be taken should a crisis emerge.
  2. Respond quickly. Once something is posted on Facebook, Twitter or any other social platform, it will reach many, many people. If it’s something negative about a brand or big company, there’s no doubt it will spread like wildfire. The best thing to do is to respond to what has gone wrong immediately – instead of waiting to have thousands of comments or post on your profile.
  3. Apologise and own up to your mistake. If you are being criticised publically for something that was actually your fault, the smartest way to handle it is to own up and publically apologise or explain what went wrong. 
  4. Find a fast solution and update the public. After you’ve explained what went wrong, inform everyone that you will be taking necessary steps to stop it and then prevent it from happening in the future. You’ll score bonus points if you update the public as to what you did to stop the crisis.

If you need some real-life examples of how to take these steps, take a look at how these brands handled their scenarios: 

Red Cross 

An employee of Red Cross accidentally tweeted on the company’s profile instead of her personal one. The tweet was about getting drunk – which is definitely not something you want to see Red Cross tweet. Red Cross simply tweeted that it was an error and took it in their stride; even adding some humour to the situation by saying that they’ve confiscated the drunk person’s car keys. The employee also tweeted and apology, stating that she mixed the accounts up on Hootsuite. 

Domino's Pizza

Domino’s Pizza handled their ongoing quality crisis in a different way – but it was very effective and ended up working out positively for them. For a while, they were receiving negative feedback on the quality of their food. Finally they decided to take a risk by acknowledging and admitting that their pizza quality wasn’t always what it used to be; and asked the fans to help them with suggestions as to how to improve it. This was a risk and could’ve ended up going bad, but it worked out well for them in the end. 

JC Penny

A while ago, JC Penny started promoting their new kettle. Sounds simple enough, right? The problem started when one person posted a picture of it on a social network, claiming it strongly resembled Adolf Hitler. This, obviously being an extremely sensitive topic, sparked media frenzy. JC Penny then responded to each and every tweet and Facebook post they received with more or less the same message; stating that it was completely unintentional and had they wanted to design a kettle to look like something or someone, it would’ve been something fun. By responding personally to everyone and letting people know it was an honest mistake, the crisis died down completely. 

What NOT to do

  1. Delete comments. One of the worst things you can do is delete negative comments from your company Facebook page. Many people would have already seen the comments, they will know you’ve deleted them and they will call you out on it. This will make you look unprofessional and like you try to hide your company’s errors.
  2. Argue. Arguing with your fans and followers and putting up a defensive front will get you nowhere. It will encourage “trolls” and end up making you look nasty and bitter for your own mistakes. Many companies choose this approach and end up losing plenty of loyal and prospective customers in the process.
  3. Disappear off the radar. Something that is possibly even worse than deleting comments and arguing is having no reaction at all. Don’t not comment or address the public as to what went wrong – especiallyif it is your fault. This is a very poor way of handling a crisis and could have very bad results.

Here are some more real-life examples – this time of what NOT to do. 


The famous, world-wide fast-food chain has been around for many years, so negative feedback is inevitable; and we all know they’ve put up with plenty over the years. A social media crisis of theirs backfired a couple of years ago. They took to Twitter to ask their followers to tweet their stories about McDonald’s and use the hashtag #McDStories to get involved in the conversation. They were not expecting negative comments about their food and service – which is all they got. A big brand which has already received so much criticism over the years needs to be careful when asking for public opinion. 

Audi South Africa

Here is a local one for you. A client complained publically on Audi SA’s Facebook page about how her car was damaged by one of their employees. She also complained that they hadn’t responded to her initial private complaint. Instead of apologising as soon as they received the post and informing her that they’ll find a solution as soon as possible; they waiting until the comments and response from other fans reached a staggering 2 500 comments! The backlash they got from the public ended up being more about the way they handled their crisis, than the actual crisis itself. 

Amy's Baking Company

I have saved the best example of what not to do for last. Amy’s Baking Company is an American bistro and restaurant which was featured on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares in 2013. What resulted after the show aired was a social media disaster. After seeing their unprofessional and rude behaviour on the show (which even caused Gordon to leave), people shared their bad feelings towards the husband and wife owners of the bistro on their Facebook page. The owners decided to put up a defensive front and proceeded to insult and swear at everyone who was commenting. This went viral and was everything you’re not supposed to do when your company is in a crisis of any kind!

Overall, it’s obvious that the best thing to do should a crisis arise is be honest, apologise and explain what went wrong. If it wasn’t your fault or was unintentional, then do what JC Penny did and still reply to the public. Just never, ever do what Amy’s Baking Company did.