Thursday 16 February 2017 10:35 am

How can brands avoid social media crises?

The London Dungeon apologised this week after its “dark Valentine campaign” on social media drew widespread criticism. This incident got me revisiting a familiar issue: how can brands avoid social media crises? With policies, practice runs and neutral second opinions.


There are often just a few origins for social media crises:


Misjudgement: Brands can misread their target audience and the wider mood with their own marketing, such as the London Dungeon or the case of Southern Rail: Southern customers probably don’t need reminding of when the company invited its passengers to “strike back” against protesting RMT workers. That went well.

In other cases, organisations can respond badly to real-world crises or customer issues.


Internal issues: Remember the case of HMV, where a member of staff live tweeted redundancies from the company’s Twitter account. The risk of staff going off piste on social media grows with the size and reputation of the organisation.


External issues: Brand accounts can get hijacked. For example, Netflix’s Twitter account was hacked in December 2016.


Risks will always be there. Many – especially internally created issues – can be avoided. With external incidents there are ways in which brands can, to borrow a very 2016 turn of phrase, take back control.


My advice to organisations is that with social media the answer lies in preparation:


  1. Conduct a reputation audit. How do people, the media and stakeholders really feel about the brand and service? This will give brands a sense of perspective
  2. Set up a listening framework, team and contact lists (legal, PR, social media etc.) to respond quickly
  3. Establish social media policy and response protocol, and community rules for social media networks
  4. Create a threat analysis. Where could potential issues arise?
  5. Train all stakeholders in the chain. Run simulations to test teams and the robustness of the protocol
  6. Build a ‘dark site’ if required. These are web pages that can be published in case of a crisis
  7. If you plan to run a campaign, test your concept with people outside the marketing department – or even outside the organisation – for their neutral viewpoint. That may avoid public backlashes further down the line


Around half of companies now have a social media policy.


A social media policy for staff comes with numerous benefits. It sets out acceptable behavior, and draws line between work and private lives. It protects the organisation from liability for actions of its workers and helps them manage performance. It helps control network security, and sets out what exactly can be shared and blogged.


Policies should be adaptable with evolving social media, must include information on copyright and defamation, set out disciplinary procedures, and protect the organisation’s intellectual property.


The key is to make them work. Staff should be trained on policy.


And when it comes to running social media campaigns, marketers can benefit from stepping outside their own department and viewing their plans objectively from a media and public viewpoint before committing to publish.