It’s a digital age where the power of social media is omnipresent. A new generation of empowered stakeholders online not only wield tremendous influence over brand reputations, but they can also create a crisis that can quickly spiral out of control. This is something we’ve seen time and time again. While social media is often viewed as a crisis-starter, it is also an essential element in crisis preparation, crisis response and management, and crisis evaluation for any situation, regardless of how it was kindled.

Here’s how:

Before: Crisis Preparation 

Preparation is key to limiting both reputational and financial damage and crisis preparation tactics should always include a thoughtful social media plan. An analysis of the company’s social properties will help the brand understand its key audiences and identify supporters, critics and influencers. The analysis will also allow the company to understand vulnerabilities and potential issue areas based on existing online conversations. Today, this is exceedingly important, because this analysis will frequently help identify potential crises before they arise. 

After the initial analysis is complete, the company should begin creating a flexible and comprehensive crisis response plan. Within this plan needs to be a robust section on social media engagement. For example, pre-drafted and approved social posts drastically improve a company’s ability to respond during a crisis. The posts should be infused with an understanding of the best way to communicate with supporters and the best way to mitigate potential opposition. The posts should also come from a wide variety of channels – the company itself, third party validators, and other influencers. In addition, the knowledge gained from the initial analysis will help inform what additional tactics are needed, such as digital ads, microsites, etc. 

During: Crisis Response and Management

In order to respond in time, brands should utilize top-tier digital monitoring tools so they know if and when something is happening online. Without digital monitoring, a company may instead discover the issue after it has spiraled out of control. 

Once a brand is ensnared in a crisis, it should activate its crisis response plan immediately. For social media specifically, this means posting and engaging at appropriate times. The company will, undoubtedly, have to revise its social media strategy to adapt to the specific circumstances, but it is vital that the company begins pushing out messages and engaging with its supporters with the hope of activating them to come to the brand’s defense. Drawing on the company’s goodwill already garnered through its social properties will help preserve its reputation. 

A crisis is also the time to call upon third party supporters. Third parties can reach different audiences and help quell a crisis quicker than a company can by itself. However, it is important that all parties are coordinated, amplifying the core company messages. 

After: Evaluating the Crisis

Following a crisis, social media analysis should inform an understanding of the scope of any reputational damage. Using tools that examine conversations and audiences, this analysis will also allow the company to improve its response in the event of a future crisis. And social media should, of course, continue to serve as an important communication tool for the company following a crisis, allowing the brand to maintain or reestablish its reputation as needed.  

Social media has created a new generation of empowered stakeholders who can make or break an organization’s reputation in a matter of minutes, which is why understanding how best to utilize social media before, during, and after a crisis is key to brand preservation and successful stakeholder engagement.

michael appel
Michael Appel

Michael Appel is a senior associate director at APCO Worldwide specializing in crisis management and litigation communications. Read More

Hope OLeary
Hope O’Leary

Hope O’Leary is a project assistant on the crisis and litigations communications team in Washington, D.C. Read More