How to Handle a Social Media Crisis

February 5, 2020 | 3 minute read
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The key to crisis management in the digital era is social media. Using social media, companies and brands can respond to crises in near real-time. And the focal point of this crisis response on social media needs to be the company’s CEO. Customers are expecting a raw, unedited and unfiltered response to any crisis, and are expecting to hear directly from the head of a company, not from a trained PR professional using a rehearsed speech. In short, it’s important for the CEO to step up during a social media crisis, and to ensure that the proper policies and procedures are in place to deal with any potential crisis moment.

The role of the CEO in crisis management

While managing crises is a difficult process, the good news is that customers and partners will back any company that responds well to crises. That might be a fast food chain dealing with tainted food items, an airline company dealing with massive flight delays, or a retail store dealing with claims of racism by customers who were denied service for any reason. According to the 2019 Crisis Impact Report from UK-based Crisp Thinking, 90 percent of survey respondents said they would continue to shop with a brand that responds well to a crisis. Conversely, 66 percent of survey respondents said that it was unlikely they would continue to shop with a brand that fails to respond well to a crisis.

Moreover, this study on crisis management found that a majority (59%) of respondents wanted to hear directly from the CEO. Knowing that a crisis has the full attention of the CEO goes a long way in assuaging customer fears. At the end of the day, customers realize that companies can’t be perfect. But, at the same time, they don’t want companies trotting out trained PR professionals and giving them a canned speech. Doing so strikes many as being inauthentic. For customers who might have spent years developing a relationship with a brand, it’s important to hear directly from the face of the company.

Real-time response to any crisis

The 2019 Crisis Impact Report also uncovered another important fact – customers and other company stakeholders are expecting rapid, near real-time response to any crisis. More than half (53%) expect a brand response within one hour of a crisis, and more than one-third (34%) expect a brand response within 30 minutes.

For that type of rapid crisis response to occur, the proper policies and procedures need to be in place. This includes some form of social media monitoring program, such that a company can find out as soon as possible when a crisis might be brewing. A single disgruntled customer venting on social media is not a crisis, but hundreds or thousands of people doing so (and possibly using a hashtag as well) certainly qualifies as a crisis.

That’s why social media has become the preferred platform of choice for responding to any potential crisis. With Twitter, for example, it’s easy to coordinate a response from the CEO within 30 minutes or less. In some cases, the CEO might even have his or her own social media accounts, which can be used as well as part of the crisis response. It may be impossible to prevent a crisis from happening in the first place, but with a crisis management plan in effect, it’s possible to contain the impact of that crisis and preserve the hard-earned reputation of a company.


Nobody likes a troll, especially when they’re interfering with your marketing and branding. Find out “How to Deal with a Troll on Social Media.”



Chris Zilles

As the Founder and CEO of Social Media Headquarters (HQ), Chris manages an online community of marketers, students, entrepreneurs and digital enthusiasts. One of his goals is to help others grow professionally with the help of the latest tips and trends in social and digital marketing. You can follow up on Twitter @SocialMediaHQ.

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