Social media crisis management is a topic that businesses try to avoid for as long as possible; sometimes until it’s too late. Nobody can expect when a crisis might happen, which is why businesses need to be ready with a plan and a procedure to contain the situation when your business gets into hot water. Your overall digital existence is an essential part of your communication strategy. Therefore, controlling what’s being said about your business on social media and how you respond to it has been added to the to-do list of every marketer and business owner. After all, social media is a big part of your brand story and you need to craft a presentable digital presence for your brand.
In this article, you’ll explore what qualifies to be a social media crisis and how you should be ready and respond to it the right way. Additionally, you’ll tackle how to improve your overall digital existence.
How Social Media Fits into the Culture Today
Social media platforms have already established themselves as the closest point of interaction between brands and consumers. That has given consumers much more autonomy over their purchasing habits and enabled them to initiate the conversation with brands. Additionally, it created communities where anyone can easily share their experience with a product or a service. For businesses, it’s great when users share a positive experience, but it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes, consumers’ feedback can be ruthless. Nevertheless, a negative feedback is not even a business’s social media nightmare. Sometimes, businesses are involved in political or social wars that they haven’t even started; especially that the whole world is connected on the same platforms. A boycott campaign that starts in the United States could easily affect the brand’s sales on the other side of the globe.
With distance learning, virtual professional meetings, exhibitions and webinars, and even online concerts and performances, the digital world is becoming more intertwined with the real world. Moving forward, everyone will be spending more time online. It’s an opportunity for brands, yet it becomes more important than ever to optimise your digital presence and be ready with a social media crisis management plan.
Social Media Crisis or a Minor Problem?
Before moving further with a social media crisis management plan, let’s define what a crisis means. A social media crisis is an event that can have a negative effect on a brand’s or an individual’s reputation. It can be something that occurs offline and is then brought to social media channels, or it can begin on social media channels, and then spread. Social media crises can be embarrassing photos, inappropriate postings by employees or ex-employees, or voiced opinions that can reflect negatively on a company.
But are all social media issues of the same gravity? Of course not. To handle a social media crisis, you must determine the severity of the issue. Is it a problem? Or, is it a crisis? These two words are not synonymous in this case. There’s a key difference between a problem and a crisis which determines the response that you’ll want to deliver.
A problem is a minor customer service issue that can be resolved using standard service tactics. Your company may solve this with a coupon or discount that’s sent to a customer who writes an unhappy comment or post. In comparison, crises affect larger audiences and require a special response from your business to prevent escalation. Mistaking a minor problem for a crisis can be harmful to your brand. You wouldn’t want to bring negative attention to something that could easily be solved one to one with your customer. Social media is a public forum and users will be able to watch your company make a formal apology to a seemingly minor issue. If you’re unsure if it’s a crisis or not, begin with your standard customer service approach but be prepared to escalate the issue to a crisis if needed.
Social Media Crisis Examples
Insensitive, Out of Touch or Tone Deaf Remarks
This happens very often with spokespersons, celebrities, politicians and even influencers. Social media is a public platform, many content creators tend to forget that. What you can’t say on a stage with a microphone in a room full of strangers, you surely can’t say on social media. Moreover, your audience are people coming from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, races, genders and social statuses. So, if you wish to stay at equal distance as a business entity, you need to be careful with offensive or tone deaf content; especially jokes.
An example of this is when Chase, the well-known American bank, wanted to sound ‘cool’ with their Monday Motivation post and it took a wrong turn. There’s something inherently unpleasant about a bank conceitedly making fun of their consumers for their financial instability–particularly a bank that received a bailout from U.S. taxpayers during the 2008 financial crisis. When Chase implied that certain customers have a low balance because of being spendthrifts, the backlash was immediate and justified.
To add insult to injury, their apology was not a sincere one and it also sounded haughty. Chase’s response is a classic example of failing at social media crisis management.
Product Fails and Customer Criticism
Because social media is the first window to shoppers, the first place to look for customer feedback is there. That makes community managers and moderators play the role of both brand ambassadors and customer service agents. If a product you’re putting out doesn’t deliver, you’re going to be taking the brunt of criticism. This is the bad situation that DevaCurl found themselves in when a number of influencers and YouTubers spoke out against DevaCurl products after they had previously promoted them.
DevaCurl is a beauty brand specialised in hair products for Curly hair. In fact, the brand built its empire on social media influencer campaigns and is one of the most popular among the young curly community. As a result to that move, a corresponding Facebook group with more than 59,000 members spoke out about the hair loss and damage they experienced with the brand’s products!
This story shows the snowball effect of social media. A few influencers on Instagram and YouTube almost started a movement against the brand. That led to the creation of a group of DevaCurl haters on Facebook. Soon enough, it grew into a multichannel social media crisis. DevaCurl handled the crisis really well and addressed the allegations the best way they could. Despite that, the after effect hasn’t completely faded away. One search on Google and you’ll see a detailed coverage of the controversy including the videos of the influencers who turned against the brand.
You can easily spot the difference here between a few complaints here and there that you can deal with as a business, and a wave of criticism due to product failure. The first situation is a problem that you should be ready to solve, the latter is a social media crisis that needs proper intervention.
Employee Errors and Bad Behaviour Gone Viral
Customers don’t only review product fails, they also review behaviour fails from brands or any of their employees. At the end of the day, employees are the face the business and a business can take the blame for one employee’s mistakes. In the United States, where several shocking mass shootings have taken place at schools, one employee at Walmart made this mistake that went viral.
Walmart apologised and investigated the incidence. However, the reactions on Twitter were ruthless as it was a sensitive topic that made the audience furious. As a business owner, a content creator or someone who runs social media accounts, you must understand that customers will have zero tolerance towards racism, sexism, and discrimination or disrespect. Today, customers, and social media users in particular, are aware that businesses should stand at an equal distance from different ethnicities, genders, and religious or social backgrounds. Any sort of disrespect on a company’s behalf would immediately stir fury among social media users. These are the kind of crises that you can easily avoid if you commit your business and employees to a professional, friendly tone that treats the audience with respect. If your content is supposed to be funny, you should pay extra attention as jokes can easily go wrong.
Site Outages and Broken Links
Although this is common and some may think it doesn’t mount to a crisis, you’re always better safe than sorry. Site outages and broken links often happen during big discounts and high-traffic days like Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Unfortunately, essential businesses, like banks and pharmacies, get the worst side of the audience reaction because their customers cannot afford waiting till the problem is solved. You’d find an explosion of mentions and complaints coming your way. Luckily, responding to this issue isn’t hard granted you’re equipped to fix the issue in a timely manner and compensate the customers with the right gesture.
Real World Crisis, Global Events and Tragedies
This one isn’t just an insensitive remark, it’s about being deliberately ignorant of whatever is going on in the world. That’s why it sticks to the minds of the audience. Insensitivity to tragedies and global events is usually due to lack of awareness, especially if there’s a cultural gap involved. International social media accounts are the most prone to these mishaps. If your brand is communicating to people from different cultures and backgrounds, you must study that culture and figure out the red lines you should never cross. Sometimes, it’s even worse than a lack of knowledge about the history of a culture. One has seen some incidents where brands are completely oblivious to political events and global tragedies like wars or even diseases like depression.
That’s what happened when citrus punch brand SunnyD unleashed a series of tweets implying that the brand was losing its will to live. While some users were entertained, others pointed out that a juice brand posturing as a depressed individual was inherently ignorant to a tragic disease that affects 300 million people worldwide.
This brings us to the fact that the on-going coronavirus pandemic highlights the need for a social media crisis management plan as brands must be more mindful than ever of customer empathy and how they carry themselves during troubled times.
Furthermore, the Arab-led boycott campaign to French products is another example that speaks volumes on how every brand needs to have a social media crisis management plan. It’s also a lesson to brands on how they need to be aware of the on-going world happenings.
Arab countries called for the boycott of French brands due to a stirred religious-political debate between France and the Muslim world. French brands found themselves amid a massive boycott campaign that they hadn’t played a role in at all. In Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy, a hashtag calling for the boycott of French supermarket retailer Carrefour was the second most trending. Similar calls for boycott have been issued also by groups in Jordan and Qatar. That’s when the retailer needed to respond wisely and neutrally so as not take sides or offend anyone.
Trolls and Automated Content
If brands decide to use automated responses and content generated by artificial intelligence, they should handle with care. Automated content has become the best attraction for trolls. A social media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial in order to get a rise out of other users. This has occurred more than once with big brands. Microsoft’s AI Twitter account, Adidas UK, and Uber fell prey to these trolls.
A troll account changed its Twitter display name to the N-word and tweeted at Uber’s customer service account about a negative experience it had while using the platform. In response, Uber tweeted “We’re so sorry about that N*****!”–except the actual tweet wasn’t censored. In this case, a simple filter would have prevented the publication of a racial slur. Of course, Uber apologised for the mistake, but it says a lot about the fact that the ridesharing company hadn’t thought through this scenario ahead of time. This was similar to what happened to Adidas UK Twitter account.
Adidas launched a new line of gear for Arsenal, it rewarded any user who tweeted #DareToCreate by posting an A.I.-generated jersey with their Twitter handle on the back. It was innocent enough — until trolls with hateful handles exploited the campaign. Soon enough, Adidas’s official account was tweeting branded jerseys with offensive messages on the back. The worst of them are too vile to type, but if you need a hint, think Holocaust denial and mass extermination.
Social Media Crisis Management: How to Avoid a Social Media Crisis
#1: Think Before You Publish
Many of these social media crises could have been easily avoided if brands have just thought their content through. With customers becoming empowered by knowledge, everyone is more socially and politically aware. As a business, no matter how casual, rebellious, or cool your brand may seem, it’s a still a business that customers would expect to act professionally and create content that doesn’t offend them. After all, a brand’s social media platform is not a stand-up comedy show. Check on what’s happening in the world and see if your content still relates.
#2: The Spokesperson of Your Brand
The first thing you should do is determine who can speak for your brand and make sure that person has the time to think before they publish. Do you have your posts and comments go through approvals (think: client-side or a marketing team)? By keeping your brand’s messaging limited to a select few, you’re less likely to post insensitive content. This creates a sense of accountability for your social media marketing if something does go wrong.
Your business must also have a tone that fits with the brand’s positioning. For example, do you prefer to take a humorous tone? Formal? Sarcastic? There’re no right and wrong answers here. What matters is having a defined style guide so that your customer interactions are always expressive of what the brand stands for; on-brand and non-confrontational. This also makes it easier to help new hires understand how to talk to your customers via social media platforms.
#3: Avoid Capitalising on Crises
In 2014, a hashtag focused on the stories of domestic abuse survivors, #WhyIStayed, began trending on Twitter, and it didn’t take long for brands to plant their feet firmly in their proverbial mouths, as DiGiorno Pizza did with this particularly tasteless attempt to cash in on the hashtag:
If you’re tempted to think that your tweet about 9/11 or a heart-breaking topic like domestic abuse, sexual assault, or racism, will be funny – it won’t be. That era is over. There’re simply no excuses for trying to capitalize upon a tragedy, ever. It doesn’t matter if your tweets or posts are funny– there’s just no need for them. Co-opting a tragedy for your own gain can be enough to prompt a social media backlash that could do tremendous damage to perceptions of your brand.
Something else to be mindful of is scheduling tweets. Many companies schedule their social media posts up to several weeks in advance, and it’s obviously impossible to predict where and when tragedy will strike. That said, if you’ve got social media content queued up and a major terrorist attack or natural disaster occurs, consider postponing your scheduled tweets until the media coverage dies down. In that case, it’s a complete turn-off to post your scheduled content. Being tone-deaf to what your audience feels is the last thing you want your brand to be. Remember that social media platforms belong to people and not businesses. The goal of putting your brand on social media platforms is to become closer to people and be more human. That’s the exact opposite of being an insensitive business.
Pre-Crisis: How to Prepare Your Brand for a Social Media Crisis?
Have a Prepared Response Plans in Place
A social media crisis doesn’t often emerge as a crisis from the very first minute. The damage usually occurs due to the after-effect, or the ‘fallout’ after the initial incident. The lack of a defined, prepared disaster response plan either results in complete silence from the brand; which causes the audience to grow more furious, or a response that adds insult to injury. If your company really did screw up, faux apologies like, “We’re sorry you feel that way” are likely to make matters worse, not better. Genuine, sincere apologies aren’t just the right thing to do when you drop the ball – they’re what your pissed-off followers will expect (or demand), so don’t make things worse by refusing to accept responsibility or offering a weak, not-quite apology.
Although it’s impossible to prepare for every single eventuality, but it’s amazing how many companies don’t have any form of crisis response plan ready. Let’s find out how you can have a well-defined response plan in place.
#1: Identify the Crisis-Response Team
While every staff member is important, they can’t all be part of your crisis management team. You’ve understood that the spokesperson and brand tone are essential to your crisis toolbox, yet there are other important roles that need to be put together. You need a good mix of executive personnel (to enforce decisions), management (to coordinate), and creatives (to craft the right message). Bigger companies might even need a lawyer. As you build your team, answer the following questions:
- Who will take ownership for the overall strategy – assigning tasks and ensuring the team stays on target?
- Who is responsible for identifying and monitoring potential crises?
- Who’s going to inform management and/or key stakeholders?
- Who will manage social media and respond to questions?
- And who will be handling messages that come in through other channels?
- Which executive will act as a spokesperson for the media?
Get these roles straightened out while you have time to plan. Next, it’s time to think about what sorts of crisis you might possibly face.
#2: Define What a Crisis Represents for You
Like you understood earlier, not every issue that will arise online is a crisis. A social media crisis has three characteristics:
- Information asymmetry: When you don’t know any more than the public about what’s going on.
- A change from the norm: Everyday criticism of your products is not a crisis. When your products explode at random– that’s a crisis.
- Serious risk to your company: It seems obvious, but the scope of the issue is important. For something to be a crisis, it needs to have a truly negative effect.
Sit with your new team in a brainstorm session to set benchmarks and find real examples of what qualifies as a crisis. Since every company is different, it’s a matter of creating a definition that works for you. An added benefit of this is that you’ll identify potential weaknesses you otherwise might not have thought about.
#3: Create Communication Guidelines
Whatever your response during the tough times, your core values and value proposition should be central. If you remind customers why they came to you in the first place, you have a far better chance of keeping them around. When things get out of control, they will be moving at a mile a minute. Your values and value proposition will give your spokesperson and social media team the right framework, they will ensure that they convey the most important information.
To ensure you’re even more prepared, craft some basic templates. The first of these should be a brief, general statement of the company’s position. You also need sample answers to the obvious questions you know you’ll receive. This is your best opportunity to set the tone you’ll use as a company. There may be even room for jokes and light-hearted apologies, as long as they suit your usual social media style.
#4: Buy Some Binoculars
Or, in other words, use a tool to keep track of what’s going on the channels your brand communicates through. You’re going to need something that gives you real-time updates and lets you analyse large amounts of data to draw conclusions. There are many good social media listening tools out there. Some of them actually alert you when your keywords explode online, meaning that everybody is talking about your brand. That somehow notifies you when danger is close.
Social Media Crisis Management: How to Respond (During the Crisis)
So, what if an inevitable social media crisis hits your brand? What should you do? Here’s your needed checklist to get through the storm.
React Quickly and Swiftly
A response time of 12 hours is considered the norm when it comes to questions and concerns on social media. However, social media crisis management means responding as quickly as possible. The sooner you’re able to react and supress any sort of controversy, the better. Sometimes, responding quickly may even be your saviour from a social media crisis. Whether responding means deleting a post or issuing an apology, depending on the situation. Either way, it all starts with keeping a keen eye on your notifications and mentions to keep a negative feedback loop from forming. This is when social media listening tools come in handy.
Pause Your Scheduled Posts
With a mad panic around you, you can’t go on normally with your posting plan. Especially because most social media posts are fun or inspiring which doesn’t go well with a serious crisis going on. It makes the brand look like it’s turning a blind eye to what’s happening. A monitoring tool will help you do that much easier especially if you’re managing accounts on several social media platforms.
Publicly Acknowledge the Problem
If you find yourself in social media crisis management mode, it’s only natural to want to get things “back to normal” as quickly as possible. So, you may either be tempted to ignore it till it cools down or rush into an apology to move forward. Both strategies won’t do any good to containing the situation. It’s obvious why ignoring the crisis won’t help your brand. But in fact, a half-hearted apology can actually do just as much damage in a situation where your customers were truly hurt.
If a crisis occurs, the best thing you can do is buy yourself some time by acknowledging the problem and that you’re investigating it or working to fix it. You may still get some angry responses, but it’s much less damage than ignoring the problem or rushing into an apology that sounds something like ‘we’re sorry you’re offended’ or ‘we regret to hear you’re disappointed’.
Assess and Apologise If Necessary
If you realize that your business had committed a mistake, do not bluff and do not have your defensive mode on. What makes a ‘good’ public apology is up for debate, but you should trust that the audience can easily differentiate a sincere apology from a fake one. As a baseline, a sincere apology will often include three things: an actual apology (as in, saying, “I’m sorry,” rather than alluding to it), taking responsibility for the offense, and expressing empathy. That’s according to statements made by Lisa Leopold, an associate professor of English language studies.
How to Write a Public Apology?
To translate that into an actual apology, first you need to identify your victim. Who got hurt? You cannot issue an apology without looking the person in the eye, so to speak. People see right through that. Whether it’s your customers or the people of a specific community, you must address them directly. To offer a genuine apology, you have to centre your message on the victim(s) of your actions.
Secondly, you must express remorse and not just apologise by feeling sorry for yourself. When you express remorse, you do not apologize for what people thought. You apologize for what you did, without offering context or qualifiers to help you shift the blame away from you. To complete this step, you must be genuinely sorry for the effects your actions had on your victim. This is not the time to say things like: “I’m sorry if you were offended… or “My comments came across as insensitive…”
Thirdly, the ending of your apology should cover your upcoming action plan. In other words, how your business/entity is going to make amends. Sometimes, the mistake is something you can’t take back, yet you should always make it clear how this is never going to happen again.
A good tip here is to start with the victim and end with your remorse. What you say first and what you say last goes a long way in whether or not people forgive you. Because first impressions and parting words tend to stick with us a lot longer than what comes in the middle. An example of a good apology by a brand is this one from Slack. The incident was that Slack suddenly banned users who had accessed Slack from countries on the U.S. sanctions list, including Iran and Syria. The ban came out of nowhere and locked unsuspecting customers out of their accounts. It was real bad.
Notify Your Team
The team you have assigned to social media crisis management should be your immediate contacts if a crisis takes place. The sooner they know, the better. Not only should they be notified, but also informed with the full picture. No sugar-coating. Even if your business has committed a terrible mistake, this team’s job is to represent your brand. To do so, they must assess the situation well to be able to take the right action.
Post a Long-form Response on Your Website
Following Slack’s example, your full and detailed response should be posted on your website. On different social media channels, you’ll be sending plenty of small, individualised responses, explanations and apologies. But you also need one official statement where reporters and blog writers can easily find your side of the story. Especially, if the damage has reached your SEO results and now people can easily find out about the incident. If it’s that easy to find out about the crisis, it should be even easier to find your brand’s response.
This is also what Johnson & Johnson did when they faced a crisis of allegations about asbestos in its baby powder, the company created a webpage and a Twitter thread specifically addressing the main concerns people were expressing both on and off social media. The social team actively responded to concerned tweets, and referred people to the webpage for consistent information.
Stay Calm and Do Not Panic
The good news is that there’s hardly ever a social media crisis that brands cannot recover from. Besides that, staying calm enables you to take the right decisions and keeps the responsible team in control of their tasks. Mistakes happen and sometimes you can’t control every aspect of the business, especially on dynamic communication platforms. Remember to always respond to engage and not to argue. Keep it short. Avoid getting pulled into a long discussion of what went wrong. Of course, some people will simply keep arguing with you until you stop responding. When it’s clear you’re not making progress, acknowledge the concerns and frustrations, but stop taking the bait. Getting pulled into a fight online will not improve the situation. During a social media crisis, people are watching, so you’ve simply got to take the high road.
Social Media Crisis Management: Post-Crisis Plan
If there’re any perks to a social media crisis, it’s the learnings your business and team get from the experience. Although nobody wants to learn the hard way, sometimes the hard way is the best learning experience. The key questions for this part of your plan are:
- What will your KPIs for successful crisis management be?
- How will you measure the negative conversations generated?
- How will you measure the impact on overall brand sentiment?
- How will you measure the overall brand impact of this over time?
KPIs will truly influence your future social media crisis management plan. You’ll know what to expect and how to measure the real size of the crisis and your success rate.
Assess Brand Impact
Is the crisis really over? When can you say ‘things are back to normal’? How many followers have you lost? Are you still receiving a huge number of complaints? What is the amount of negative sentiment around your brand? How badly had the crisis hit your reputation? These are all valid and pressing questions that will be on your mind once the worst is over. To be able to say the crisis is over or at least ‘cooled down’, you need to compare against the data you supposedly collected of what a normal business week looks like. If you already have this data, it should be easy. Once again, your monitoring tools will come in handy.
Any potential long term harm to the brand should be taken as a high priority. It should also affect future communication and content plans. Depending on how big the impact is, your role should be building a new narrative that addresses the potential damage. A great example of this is McDonald’s cautionary tale. In 2012, McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #McDStories. They were hoping for inspiring user generated content where users share heart-warming stories about Happy Meals. What they got instead is a flow of furious tweets that shared ‘horror stories’ about McDonald’s from both customers and employees. Almost immediately, people began sharing their very worst experiences of either working at or patronising McDonald’s, from horrifying labour law violations observed by former employees to shocking first-hand accounts of how the chain routinely abuses animals at its suppliers’ agricultural production facilities. McDonald’s had to quit promoting the campaign within hours from its release. Several weeks later, the crisis had been over, but this is a kind of crisis where a business will need to re-invent itself; to re-tell its entire narrative after the storm has passed. It was clear that McDonald’s would need a business revamp and a communication plan that can save face.
Reflect on Your Response
Once it looks like you’re out of the woods, it’s important to reflect on the way you responded. Hopefully, you had a great plan in place, and everyone knew exactly what was required of them. However, if that wasn’t the case, this exercise will be of great importance to prepare for the future.
As part of your plan, make time to debrief after the event, and discuss how it went. Key questions to work through include:
- What were the strongest aspects of the brand’s crisis plan?
- Where was the existing strategy unhelpful or less impactful?
- Are there any processes or templates that need to be revised?
- Do you need to create any new systems or guidelines?
- Discuss the different experiences of management, administrative, and customer support staff.
- Did everyone feel ready to respond, and what other resources would have helped when things got hectic?
Another part you should be reviewing is where your response was most effective. You may have spent countless hours scrolling Twitter and responding to individuals, and yet one Facebook post reached more people and was widely shared. So, next time you would know the most efficient way of reaching your audience.
Prepare for the Future
The future here doesn’t refer to future crises. A social media crisis management plan should be done before a crisis even hits. Preparing for the future means dealing with the negative impact that this crisis has created. Unfortunately, a wave of negative news and complaints can linger far longer than a week or two. You need to decide what your response will look like moving forward. It might not be best to act like everything is now fixed. Instead, you may want to be proactive, offering updates and solutions to help customers get through a tough time. These are the big questions to ask yourself:
- How will you manage or participate in the long-term conversation about this event?
- Do you need to provide continual updates long-term to any of your audiences?
- What changes should be made to your entire social media crisis management plan?
Finally, it’s good to remember that a brand’s social media crisis management plan needs to be re-visited, and fine-tuned if needed, at least once a year.
Social Media Crisis Management: Monitoring Tools
What are social media monitoring tools? Social media monitoring is the act of paying attention to what is being said on social media. That is, what is being said about your brand, your campaign, your competitors, your product, trending topics, etc. One’s come to understand that social media monitoring is your brand’s first line of defence against a potential crisis. Moreover, proper social media monitoring can give you a better understanding of your audience’s wants, improve your customer service, keep tabs on your competitors and find opportunities to raise awareness. With the huge amount of content shared on different social platforms, it’s almost impossible to keep track of everything being said. Social media monitoring tools could be your right hand during managing a social media crisis as they provide you with quality audience data and help you take relevant actions to keep a good reputation.
Let’s take a quick tour on the most popular monitoring tool and how they can help with social media crisis management.
Hootsuite is relatively more expensive than other social monitoring tools. But it’s also a sophisticated tool that offers a range of useful features. For instance, Hootsuite monitors relevant conversations on social media, and provides you with relevant insights. Like other tools, it allows you to keep track of key topics and brand mentions. What truly differentiates Hootsuite is the feature that allows you to measure social sentiment. Social sentiment is a way of measuring the emotions behind social media and other online mentions. Social sentiment doesn’t just look at how many people are talking about your business. It adds context by measuring the tone of those conversations, comments, and mentions. Hootsuite is one of the tools that can analyse social conversations and categorises them into positive, neutral, and negative.
- Positive: Consumers are enthusiastic, happy, or excited.
- Negative: Consumers are angry, annoyed, or frustrated.
- Neutral: Consumers seem satisfied but don’t express any particular feelings.
If your brand mentions surge, a quick look into social sentiments can tell you if this surge is a positive or a negative one. Monitoring brand mentions can give you some advanced warning of a surge of social activity. But if you really want to keep an eye out for a potential social media crisis, you should be monitoring social sentiment as sometimes numbers alone can be misleading.
Additionally, you can use social sentiment to analyse your performance on social media and measure your results against competitors. This can help spot trends, patterns and optimize your social media presence.
Cons: Higher price than other alternatives. Lower-tiered packages do not include social listening, analytics or benchmarking.
Price: $29 USD – $599 USD per month.
Sprout Social also offers social sentiments analysis just like Hootsuite. Additionally, it is much easier to look at and use. Hootsuite favours function over form. Although Hootsuite has the edge in reporting, Sprout Social offers more extras, like social CRM and audience discovery. Their social dashboard feature gives you an instant rundown of what your brand’s health looks like by showing basic analytics like total impressions, total engagements and total link clicks.
Sprout Social’s social listening feature gives you an overview of the keywords and hashtags your audience associate your brand or product with. It also allows you to monitor sentiment and set up alerts for when critical conversations start gaining traction on social media.
Pros: Robust analytics. And allows you to respond to mentions/messages directly from the platform.
Cons: The standard license doesn’t include the social listening feature.
Price: $99 — $249 USD per month.
Mention is a more affordable social media monitoring suite enabling brands to drive the conversation. Similar to Hootsuite and Social Sprout, it offers great reporting features that help with social media crisis management. That includes trend tracking, sentiment analysis, and reputation management alerts. Furthermore, other features such as audience segmentation, influencer tracking and competitive analysis help you get to know more about your audience and craft compelling content to them. You can then, visualise your marketing data, and automate your reports to share the results with key stakeholders in your business easily.
Pros: Affordability and it’s easy to set up and use to find relevant conversations and brand mentions all over the web.
Cons: Tracking campaigns can be difficult to set up without extra support from a support rep.
Price: Offering a free plan with limited features. Paid plans start from $25 USD up to $450 per month. For $83 per month, you can enjoy most of the features.
Optimise Your Social Media Strategy
Moving from how to manage a social media crisis to how to actually make the most of your social media presence. There’re are many challenges that social media marketers face which are not exactly ‘crises’ but they still keep brand owners up at night. Here are some tips and solutions to optimise your social media presence.
Use Negative Conversations to Tell Your Brand’s Story
Brands are competing for the attention of customers and audience in the skip-ad era. When a customer is giving a bad review, you’re having all their attention. Every negative review is a chance for your company to explain your side of the story and change the customer’s opinion about your brand. Use it as a learning experience and embrace it as free feedback to know what your business needs to work on.
Having said that, getting bad reviews doesn’t necessarily make you a bad business. In fact, 37.30% of consumers assume online reviews are fake if there are no negative reviews. We don’t live in a world of five-star experiences. That tells you that customers don’t write bad reviews to ‘bring a brand down’, they rather write negative reviews to hear back from the brand. Customers expect businesses to deal with bad reviews. Not only this, customers have high expectations on businesses to make it up for a bad experience.
Having a few negative reviews may add to your authenticity, but responding in the right way will be a turning point in the narrative. Have the intention to show who you are as a business and make sure your response fits with your brand persona. Write your response in an objective state – rage-free. At best you’ll win over an angry customer; at worst you’ll show all review readers that you take criticism seriously. A good advice is to take responsibility, show empathy, and try to make it up for the customer.
Making it up can mean different things for different industries. If you’re a restaurant, you can offer a free meal instead of the one that wasn’t satisfactory for the customer. It’s a chance to re-tell your business story by showing off the high quality food you can offer. If you offer a service, you can offer a premium subscription to unhappy customers. One thing, you’re trying to win unhappy customers back, another thing, you’re letting them try the premium service which they may actually like and choose to continue with. On the other hand, retailers usually go for discount coupons to invite unhappy customers to come back and give it another chance. Meanwhile, manufacturers and FMCGs usually go for sending a gift of a collection of their products to those who had a bad experience with previous purchases.
Example: Response to a Bad Hotel Review
Here is a good example of what a good response should look like:
Thanks for sharing your feedback, both positive and constructive! (Gratitude)
We apologise that we did not exceed the standard you received during previous stays. I understand that this was especially upsetting considering you spent your anniversary with us. (Empathy, Responsibility)
We are glad to read that the hotel staff surprised you with a bottle of wine and provided great service. (Balance)
One of our core values is offering our guests a luxurious, unforgettable experience. (Brand story)
Your comments have been discussed at length with the responsible team leader to ensure the hotel maintains its high standards. (Change) We hope you will visit us again soon and would like to offer you a $100 voucher towards your next booking. (Concession)
Brand Relevance to Pop Culture
Consumers are realising the power at their fingertips, the simple fact that you can buy all of your groceries or a new pair of shoes without pausing your binging session has changed the retail game. Businesses are starting to realise this and are changing their marketing strategies to stay relevant and bring in customers. Your brand should be a part of the daily conversations. That’s why your social media strategy should relate to what people love and enjoy talking about. Think about what a group of friends would talk about on a Saturday night. They probably wouldn’t talk about the pack of Oreos or the pair of shoes they bought. Pretty sure they’d talk about a Batman’s new movie release or Pride month, though.
Making your brand relevant is being part of the conversation. The conversation is often pop culture. So, that means people need to find your brand relating to their everyday talk. Start incorporating music, sports, movies, television, celebrity news, holidays, cultural moments, and viral trends, challenges and memes. All of these topics that brands probably wouldn’t waste time discussing on traditional media. But since social media is an ongoing conversation in real-time, it creates countless engagement opportunities.
Google is one of the best examples of utilising social media to stay relevant. They use every possible opportunity to connect with their audience through the coolest content. They use powerful storytelling, music, movies, trends, top interests of Google search, seasons, emojis, and it pays off. Google is on the list of the most relevant brands. The best part is that their content isn’t just fun, it’s valuable. It makes the lives of the audience better and easier. Something that many businesses can’t seem to get right. Check out how they published a post during the holiday’s season providing the audience with a Google Shopping Gift Guide based on different personas and preferences.
You can see the consistency of their social media strategy and their overall communication strategy as well. It was a great move from Google when they re-made the iconic scenes from Home Alone and involved Google Assistant into the pop conversation; especially because it’s a holiday ad that people will chat over during Christmas gatherings. With that touch of nostalgia to its millennial target customers, they couldn’t go wrong!
For B2B, business to business brands, your best bet on being part of pop culture and being relevant is playing on emotions and nostalgia. Don’t make the mistake of sounding too professional all the time. Bringing in some pop culture references makes you seem less robotic and more relatable. It lets other companies know they aren’t just another dollar sign to you, but that you can carry a conversation with them and they tend to be more apt to listen to your pitch. For years, Mars has been showing off their pet friendly offices on their social media platforms which connects them to pet lovers in the professional world. Their pet friendly office policy does not aim to selling more chocolate. The goal is to attract the best young professionals in the market because they know that the younger generations care about a comfortable workplace.
Showing that side doesn’t make your brand less. On the contrary, it helps build a relationship with your professional followers that is beyond money and mutual benefit. That makes them trust you and helps you retain them as loyal partners.
Create Booming, Relevant Content!
With traditional media, like brochures, radio spots, billboards, or commercials, brands had one shot to get their message across. Their time, space, and budget were limited, so their marketing was straightforward and promotional. Its only goal was to make sure the audience knew about the company, products, and services. On social media, this is totally different. Brands on social media have all the time and the resources, so there’s no need to hurry. Brands are not supposed to be on social media to close a sale. The sale is most probably being closed somewhere else.
Social media platforms are the place to building a relationship and bond with your audience. Therefore, you’ve got time. Think of it as a ‘social club’. Users are not on Facebook or Twitter to buy something. Social platforms are places where people like to connect with friends and family, entertain themselves, get the latest news about topics they care about. See, the context here is completely different.
Understanding this context makes it a lot easier for you as a business to create content that booms on social media. A promotional message on social media is ‘interruptive’, something that users will want to skip. Therefore, the best way to turn users into followers is to create the content they’re looking for on social media. If you want your audience to add your brand to their feeds and social circles, you have to fit in and be a brand they consider ‘a friend’. You won’t accomplish this if all of your content is promotional. Instead, your audience are looking for content that’s entertaining, helpful, and relatable. These are good points to start with:
- Who are your audience? Apart from being consumers, who they are in their lives. What do they aspire to be? What are the topics they care about?
- Which of these topics are relevant to your brand? Can your brand act as their advocate?
- Are people following you to get funny and entertaining content? Are they learning something? Are they getting inspired to be a better version of themselves? What is making them stay?
- Does your audience care about aesthetics? Is your content appealing to them visually?
- Would you as a social media user consider following your own brand? Would you love to mention your friends and share your own content?
Knowing your audience is key to craft great content. The more you get to know them, the better content you’ll create. The best advice here is to not think like a business when creating content, you need to think of your brand as a ‘persona’; focusing on the value your content presents instead hammering your followers with promotional messages.
Social Media Challenges
Brands at their Wits’ End with Social Media
Consultants and marketing experts usually get the same feedback from brand owners. Their brands can’t break through the clutter on social media. With too much noise, they can’t reach the right customers. Even when they reach the right customers, users don’t seem to be interested in what they have to offer due to a huge engagement gap. Consumers know all the tricks and they’ve seen everything. And so, very few brands are truly engaging and making the most of their social media presence. Let’s find some solutions to these pressing and common social media challenges.
Social Media Noise
Social media noise is a problem that digital marketers are dealing with every day, sometimes they do so unknowingly. The amount of content shared by brands on social media daily is tremendous, and all businesses seem to be fighting for the same space. Social networks have grown more crowded, and users’ attention spans have dramatically dropped. Moreover, Ogilvy predicted that reach for organic brand content on social platforms would eventually drop to zero. The obvious solution to this is using paid advertising. However, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Besides running promotions, it’s important to make sure every post counts for your brand. The number of posts you share doesn’t matter if it’s just noise. Don’t contribute to creating more noise. Content is about prioritising quality over quantity. Steer clear of zero value posts. Only share what has substance.
Somehow, content creators feel that everything’s already been said and done. How can you maintain originality? Is there any way to cut through this ‘content clutter’?
Yes, offer something that nobody else can offer. Even if the idea is the same, your brand’s fingerprint is what truly matters. For instance, show the behind-the-scenes of your company. People like to have a name and a face to build a trustful relationship with a brand. They want to know who the real person is behind everything. Give them a look. For example, publish photos or videos of your staff in their working environment. While other brands may be doing the same, no two brands will be exactly the same. This is what makes your brand original. Whether you’re posting recipes, a look-book, a playlist or anything, consider that little tweak that makes it truly yours. A brand fingerprint is usually developed by experimenting and choosing the most relevant approach for your content.
Maersk Line Maintaining Originality
Maersk is a company that continues to outdo itself when it comes to creating original content. They use storytelling as an essential ingredient in their content recipe.
Maersk content ideas may seem very traditional. Like most businesses, they share their behind the scenes, give kudos to their best employees, and showcase their services and achievements to potential clients. However, they add their own signature to everything they do; the hashtags, the visuals, their core values, their famous 7-pointed star and blue containers. If you think about it, they managed to create amazing content that people always interact within a not-so-very-fun industry. They basically move cargo, they’re not Red Bull or Coca-Cola. Yet, they know how to create original, compelling content.
Build Personal, Authentic Connections
As you now understand, consumers are empowered with information and choices. They have great expectations when it comes to brand experience. Above all, they’re looking for value, entertainment, and personalised experiences. On social media, users can see right through a robotic voice and a corporate brand that’s trying to push their sales up. What they want instead is to connect with a humanised voice. Therefore, one of the challenges brands are facing today is connecting with their target audience on a personal and individual level. This approach should be a silver bullet to small and medium sized businesses as they have an edge to execute this tactic. With their smaller circle of followers, it’s much easier to build a personal connection with each and every customer.
The best thing about this approach is how easy it is to execute it! Yet, many brands miss out on it. Use your social media inbox. You can segment your audience and:
- Send them personalised messages.
- Maintain conversations.
- Improve the customer experience.
- Ask them for feedback.
- Make them a part of the decision making process.
- Send them special and personalised gift coupons.
- Add context to each conversation.
- Generate qualified leads.
Your social media monitoring tool allows you to manage all your conversations in one place and respond to every single message and comment on your channels. Also, you can decide to create and build your group on LinkedIn or Facebook, and engage with users in your community. Turning customers into brand advocates is the core of building a brand. Think of your brand as a pop band and your customers should be your fan base.
This huge fan of Uni-ball pens shows the kind of brand advocacy you want to build for your brand. Not only is he their number one fan, he’s also ‘telling others’ about it. Word of mouth marketing is one of the most efficient marketing approaches.
As a small or a medium sized business, word of mouth or referral marketing will get you the leads with the highest conversion rates. Referral customers have so many perks and therefore, you should invest in building new and real connections through social media. The first perk is that a referred customer is 18% more loyal than a customer acquired by other means. Another perk, referred customers are 4 times more likely to refer more customers to your brand. Additionally, customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher customer retention rate.
Start a Conversation with EAIOU Tactics
Consumers are tuning out? Having hard time to engage with them. You’re not alone. This is an increasingly common challenge for brands on social media. Brands must be conversation starters. Like you understood, the best brands are those that make themselves relevant to pop culture. The main challenge here is that it takes two to tango. You can’t lead a conversation without engaged users. It ends up as a hideous loop. This is why the word ‘engagement’ gets thrown around a lot, but only a few brands actually achieve it in a meaningful way. A meaningful way is another way to say it’s not just about the number of comments or likes you get.
So, as a business, how can you start a conversation on social media? The EAIOU tactics are easy and guaranteed ideas to create content that invites people to interact.
A: Ask Questions
Simple and straightforward. In real life, we ask questions all the time. In fact, good friendships and relationships are built on questions rather than small talk about the weather or work. It’s the same on social media! Asking questions should come naturally. People love to share their thoughts on things they’re interested in. It gives them a chance to think things through. They like to hear from other thinkers. Certainly, they want other people to know what they think.
Try prompting your audience with one of the following “What do you think?” strategies:
Probe their personality
Post a question that invites people to share their opinion or weigh in on something. Users love to share what they do, who they are and what they stand for. If approached in the right way, they’d be glad to share tips and tricks, recipes, playlists, fashion advice, past experience with cars, their favourite movies. As long as the question is relevant to your industry and isn’t too personal, you can ask them anything.
Play the “Test Your Knowledge” game and create quizzes
Games and quizzes are irresistible. Everyone is guilty as charged of wanting to find out whether they’re a chicken nugget or a chicken wing. Personality quizzes have been engagement magnets for years on Buzzfeed, and it’s easy to create them to promote your brand. You may even use them to generate leads. Short quizzes with six to ten questions are optimal and there’re tools out there that you can use to create quizzes easily. Typeform has a forever free plan and three premium subscription options, starting from $35/month. It comes with several ready-to-go templates, including a digital marketing quiz and a Facebook lead generation quiz. Choose your template and then spice-up your questions with images, GIFs, and videos.
Post a poll
It’s easy to create polls on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. In addition to engaging your followers, you stand to learn meaningful things about your customer preferences and their behaviour. Polls can be a great way to make your customers participate in the content creation process. You can make them choose the topics they want to talk about, the articles they want to read on your blog, or whatever they’re looking for on your page. This also keeps them posted to follow up if the topic seemed interesting to them. This is one way to go about customised content.
Respond to my email.
Email from brands are bound to ask you to click-through to read, watch, and try or buy something, but how often do they simply ask you to write back? I find this to be an enormously engaging strategy and have seen it work for my brand and many others. Notice I wrote, “Respond to my email,” not “our email” or “this email.” A human-to-human first-person approach will be the engaging way to call this play. This is one of the best ways to create personal connections especially for B2B brands where connections are particularly of great advantage.
Just ask. Interactivity 101
Simply post a question. Whether done so in a social stream, blog post, online group or community, or on a Q&A site such as Quora, asking followers relevant, provocative, and timely questions creates some of the most engaging and thought-provoking social media activity of all. Many community groups on Facebook have built empires simply by members asking questions to each other. As a brand, there’s no reason not to do so.
Read more: Interactive Content Marketing Guide
E: Invoke Expression
“E” is for “expression” because of the way social and mobile have collided, making the ubiquitous smartphone a personal expression machine. It doesn’t matter how you create content. The camera might be front or rear-facing. Audio might be on or off. Filters, emojis, stickers, 360 images and so forth may be applied or not. Posts may be permanent or self-destructing like stories. Smartphone apps like Tiktok, Snapchat, and now Instagram Reels, Instagram’s new feature, invite people to express themselves every which way, and so they do. To invoke expression, make sure you use hashtags, they’re a great way to collect all your content under a hashtag that brings like-minded users together.
Furthermore, conducting media upload contests, also known as user generated content, seems to be an ever successful tactic. Tiktok challenges trending globally are an evidence that social media users adore creating these short videos. Contests may call for other forms of self-expression as well, such as recipes, recordings, illustrations, poems, essays, and more.
IO: Provide Incentives and Offers
Incentives can work with any user generated content you’ve just read. It also a must-have in any social media competition. The idea here is gamifying the process. It could be done through collecting points, likes, or shares over a period of time to guarantee that users stay engaged. Or, it can be strictly direct, like ‘vote for your favourite bag and win one!’ As incentives go, valuable prizes loom largest, but you may be surprised how even small rewards prove to deliver a sizable lure.
Gamification is a great way, however, the good old way of providing attractive offers is still effective. Your brand can engage customers and prospects with attractive offers such as: instant coupons and discounts, membership clubs, pick your discount promotions, free shipping, expiring promotions, etc.
Whatever way, providing incentive to encourage users to engage is a quick win.
U: Deliver Utility
You’ve understood how valuable content is what keeps customers trust your brand. It makes you a thought leader; an expert in the industry who knows how to do things the right way. Customers would trust your advice regardless of whether they use your product or service or not. Imagine you’re a perfume maker, you know the ins and outs of the perfume industry, you can give them tips on the best perfumes out there, how to choose the right cologne for each occasion, they would look up to you as the jack of the trade. Wouldn’t that make you the go-to person for perfume tips? This is delivering utility. A big majority of savvy B2B marketers put utility at the forefront of their content marketing programs. Useful content created to engage prospective customers could include tools, blog posts, video, info-graphics, downloadable guides, mini-courses, helpful email sequences, webinars, calculators and much more.
Content that delivers utility is built to last. It’s a long term strategy to invest in this type of content that is not only momentarily engaging but also a future guide and reference to your audience.
Brands Making the Most Out of Their Social Media Platforms
Studying what other brands are doing on social media is the best social media lesson. Social media content needs a lot of trial and error and A/B testing, by studying what successful brands are doing, you take a shortcut road. As a social media manager, or someone who cares about improving their brand on social media, you must follow other brands to learn from them and keep up with the trends. Here are some amazing brands to keep your eyes on:
Denny’s is an American diner which repositioned and rebuilt their brand like a phoenix. Their story is impressive to read. That brand repositioning meant that they needed to be relevant to a new generation of customers. So, they needed to connect with social media users. And so, they continue to do amazingly well on social media. Their voice on social works mainly because it’s unconventional and has a lot of humor and pop culture references.
Okay, Oreo was already praised in this article for doing well, but one just can’t help it. They’re one of the best. Just in case you haven’t followed them yet, this is another reminder. The brand opts to use their cookie to represent as many real-time events and holiday-inspired creatives as possible. Head to their Twitter account and you’ll be inspired by their use of the cookie to engage with their fans. Creativity is at the core of Oreo’s social media strategy, and so their digital presence is inspiring.
Converse is another brand to learn relevancy to pop culture from. They know how to do it with class. Converse shoes have become a cultural icon one generation after the other. To understand the greatness of their social media presence, it’s good to know the story behind Converse.
“For many years, Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars were the shoe to wear for basketball with everyone from grass roots programs all the way up to the professional leagues wearing them and eventually became the official shoe of the Olympics from 1936 to 1968. But they were also under attack from the likes of Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. As Nike and Michael Jordan took a stranglehold on the basketball shoe, Converse found an entirely different segments and demographics willing to breathe new life into their canvas high tops.”
The next community that was willing to take Converse as a second-best alternative was the skaters’ community. But having this ‘outsider’ perspective somehow got them lucky. Because of it, the pair of shoes was embraced by the grunge and punk scene. The pair of shoes became edgy and rebellious when the likes of Curt Cobain, Sex Pistols and The Ramones all wore Converse in defiance of popular footwear at the time. Wearing Converse became a statement.
Later, the shoes became a blank canvas for all sorts of collaborations with pop culture beloved icons. ‘Collecting Converse shoes’ became an actual hobby; Converse collectors are a thing. Indeed, a brand with a story is invincible.
So, back to social media, with a heritage like this, Converse marketers today bring this heritage to the digital age through social media. In other words, their objective is to re-tell the story and be consistent with making statements. The brand’s core values won’t change, they just need to find their way on the new medium. Of course, there’s no better channel to do that through but Instagram! Their Instagram profile is 100% worthy of following. It’s where you learn the importance of bringing an old story to a new generation.
Target is great on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but it’s also quite popular on Pinterest. They use creative boards to categorise the wide variety of products they sell. Target also uses Pinterest to get visitors to their site—most of their pins contain backlinks to Target’s website using their social media channels to encourage customers to convert and purchase.
Airbnb is here to prove that visuals and aesthetics REALLY matter on social media. There’s no doubt about that when Airbnb has a whopping 4M+ followers on Instagram alone. Plus, Airbnb is just cool—they have their finger on the pulse of millennials. No other brand owns user-generated content and influencer marketing as much as Airbnb, and for that, their Instagram truly deserves every follower it gets.
You haven’t thought that a dictionary would be on this list, have you? Nobody has! But Merriam-Webster has been breaking everyone’s expectations with their funny and topical tweets. Every brand can learn about news-jacking from Merriam-Webster and that’s why you should follow them. Not only this, they also deliver utility through their podcast for language geeks called #WordMatters.
Merriam Webster making it to this list is proof that social media isn’t just for the attractive industries like fashion, food, and travel. It’s for everyone! If a dictionary can do it, so can you.
If you’re here, then you’re truly keen on learning. Hopefully, you’ve learned how to avoid a social media crisis and how to build a plan for social media crisis management to save it for a rainy day. (Fingers crossed, you won’t need to ever use it.) Besides a crisis, there are other challenges that stand as barrier to achieving your goals on social media. Confidently, these tactics and strategies would help you get there. Value, engagement, and great visuals are key to ensure that. Finally, by following up on what the great brands do, you won’t get lost at making your social media presence stand out.