How to Respond to a Crisis: The First Step in Regaining Control of a Social Media Crisis

Your first response strategy is one of the most important and crucial steps within your social media crisis plan. When done properly it can immediately help you begin to regain control of the situation, easing the flow of negative comments and complaints flooding your wall, Twitter feed, inbox and wherever else the messages may be over flowing into.

Not only is your first response strategy an important and powerful tool, but it’s one of the easiest steps within your crisis plan! In this post, I’m going to take you step by step into understanding what your first response strategy is and how to implement it when you find yourself faced with a social media attack.

What is your first response strategy?
Your first response strategy is exactly what it sounds like: your first response strategy! It’s your first public response to the crisis. Not your first statement – your fist response.

Where to release it
Where you implement your first response strategy is very important. When released on the right platform you will begin to regain control of the situation. When released on the wrong platform, it will have no affect whatsoever.

Your first response should always be made on the platform where the crisis or the attack is breaking out. If the crisis is happening on Facebook, then your first response will be posted to your Facebook Timeline. If the crisis is breaking out on Twitter, then it will be released by means of a tweet, and so on.

Keep it brief
It is very important that your first response be brief. The whole point of your first response is to simply cool the situation and buy you time to look into the events of the crisis and develop your plan of action. Brevity is key to a successful first response.

What to address
There are four main points that you need to address within your first response:

  • You are aware of the situation. This will alleviate all of the “did you know / are you aware” messages flooding in.
  • You’re looking into the situation. This gives the public ease of mind that you’re currently looking into the events of the crisis.
  • You will let the public know as soon as you know more. You’ve already assured your customers and fans that you’re looking into the situation. Next you need to inform them that they can expect to hear from YOU as soon as you know more.
  • Thank the public for their understanding and patience. No time is too soon to show your fans compassion and appreciation. Always end your first response by thanking them for their patience.

When you address each of these issues, there’s nothing left for the public to do but settle down and wait for more answers – which you’ve promised will come from you. This is a big step in regaining control of the situation, and giving you time to properly assess the damage and implement your full crisis plan.

An example of a good first response might look something like this:

“We understand that many of you have encountered problem X and we would like you to know that we are presently looking into the situation and will get back to you with more information as soon as we know more. Thank you for your understanding and patience. – Sign Name”

When to release it
There’s only one answer to this question: Immediately. Your first response must be released as soon as you’re made aware of the crisis. The sooner you respond, the sooner you begin to regain control, and the sooner you will be able to overcome and resolve the situation.

The repercussions of not releasing your first response

Instead of telling you what the consequences of not having a first response strategy are, let me give you a real-live example of a company who forgot to implement one when they found themselves faced with a social media crisis, and what that meant for them throughout and after the crisis.

The company is Dominos Pizza and the crisis took place back in 2009, before Dominos even had a social media presence.

In 2009 Dominos found themselves in the midst of a social media crisis-gone-viral when two employees decided to upload a video to Youtube of them doing disgusting things to a couple of sandwiches before they went out on delivery.

Even without a social media presence Dominos had a loyal following and were quick to learn about the crisis. Taking the situation very seriously, they immediately began to take the necessary measures to apprehend the incriminating individuals and repair the damage done to their reputation. However, the first actions needed to be taken behind closed doors: arresting the offenders, closing down the restaurant for proper sanitization, review their hiring policy to make sure that this type of behavior would not happen again, and so on. Although Dominos’ actions in response to the crisis were admirable, they forgot one key element: to alert the public that they were aware of the situation and taking that action.

Dominos’ lack of a proper first response strategy furthered the crisis because as Dominos was silently fixing the problem, all of their customers and the public had no idea. Therefore, they figured that Dominos was hiding behind the crisis, not taking it seriously and hoping that it would simply just go away. Although this was untrue, they had no reason to believe otherwise, and this lead to the crisis escalating and blog posts being written and shared that otherwise did not need to be – creating more heat for the franchise.

Had Dominos responded to the crisis immediately, everybody would have been disturbed for sure, but they would have waited to learn more, and the franchise would not have been wrongfully labeled as not caring.

What to take away
As you can see, your first response strategy is a simple, yet crucial step in your crisis management. The simple act of addressing these three points will immediately help you begin to regain control of the situation – while failure to release a first response can add more repercussions to the already damaging crisis.

Need help developing your crisis management plan fit for today’s digital realities? Contact Agnes + Day.

Melissa Agnes is an international crisis management keynote speaker and consultant. President of the crisis management firm Agnes + Day, Melissa has developed a worldwide reputation for crisis management, planning and training by helping global brands and government agencies prevent and manage a wide range of issues and crises. She is also the editor of The Crisis Intelligence Blog and host of The Crisis Intelligence Podcast.

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[…] it. Ignore it and it will build a momentum and spiral out of control. Respond immediately with your initial response and then later with your official response and you will instantly begin the first steps in […]


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