The goal of crisis communication is to address and mitigate the impact of an ongoing or potential crisis, by managing the narrative and communicating in a clear and timely fashion. 

The role of social media in crisis communication has become increasingly prominent as the platforms have developed, with word (bad or good!) spreading quickly amongst larger audiences. 

We’ve been looking at how companies and brands can use social media to help communicate effectively in times of crisis. 

Immediate information sharing and amplified reach 

The prominence of social media may allow bad news to travel quickly, but it also helps brands and individuals to promptly share accurate information to a wide audience. 

In times of crisis, the speed and clarity of information delivery is important. Social media platforms allow organisations, governments, and news outlets to broadcast updates instantaneously to a vast, disparate audience.  

The widespread reach that social media offers is particularly beneficial in a diverse society like the UK, where information needs to cater to different communities and age groups. 

Traditional media channels, such as broadcast or print, also look to social media to build or supplement stories so social media can help to tap into other channels as well to spread a message far and wide.  

Listening and engaging 

On social media, companies can observe ongoing conversations and address individual concerns directly, and they can also counter any misinformation. 

Social media analytical tools give brands the ability to track responses and engagement, and gain insight into how effective their communications are. 

Having good social media listening in place means issues can be addressed quickly, potentially before things even bubble over into a crisis situation.  

Understanding how customers are responding to an ongoing crisis will help to shape further communication and avoid additional anger. 

A brand that is seen to be engaging positively and responding to concerns also helps to foster customer loyalty and positive feeling, with 63% of consumers now using social media as a customer service vehicle

Gaining support 

In some cases, social media can be used to gain backing whilst a crisis is ongoing. Amplifying supportive comments and creating a positive conversation about the brand can help to quell any negative reactions. 

However, this method tends to work more in situations where a crisis feels unjust, such as Aldi’s response to facing legal action from M&S back in 2021. Keep reading to see the tactics they used to turn the tide on a potential crisis!  

Handling bad publicity 

Negative publicity can quickly take over a brand’s mentions on social media, and if no actions are taken, it can spiral into a crisis. 

When faced with bad publicity, the best course of action is to take responsibility and apologise. Issuing a statement acknowledging that mistakes have been made, and reassuring customers that steps will be taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again, will help to quell reactions on social media. 

Any negative comments should be left visible, to avoid further anger from those leaving the comments. Comments should be initially responded to publicly, to show consumers that issues are being taken care of, and for individual concerns, conversations should take place offline or on a one-to-one basis to ensure issues can be resolved without inciting further online debate. 

In 2017, Pepsi experienced backlash after an advert featuring Kylie Jenner was accused of trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement. Pepsi released a statement saying they had “missed the mark”, apologising and halting further rollout of the advert. 

Pepsi’s decision to quickly take responsibility maintained the integrity of their brand, allowing them to move on. 

Post-crisis positivity 

Once issues have been addressed and solved, good news can be quickly broadcasted on social media, replacing negativity with positivity, and allowing the brand to recover.  

Reposting reviews from satisfied customers, running competitions, or discussing new products are all ways of getting people back on side. 

Being transparent about mistakes and informing people that issues have been resolved will build customer trust and loyalty.  

Real life case studies 

The role of social media in crisis communication has been seen over the past few years in several prominent case studies. 

When M&S launched legal action against Aldi for their ‘Cuthbert the Caterpillar’ cake, Aldi responded with a social media campaign using #freecuthbert. This prompted Twitter users at the time to join in in creating memes, generating positivity and support for Aldi’s brand (that we’re still talking about three years later!). 

In 2018, after a supply chain disruption caused a shortage of chicken, KFC branches across the UK were forced to close. The crisis quickly spread across social media, garnering negative publicity, and raising questions about how a brand built on chicken, could run out of its hero product.  

KFC issued a transparent response across social media, being honest about the reasons why it was facing difficulties, and issuing an apology to all customers affected, whilst engaging with any enquiries.  

They also utilised print media to release an advert with a play on their brand name, stating ‘FCK We’re Sorry’. The advert was quickly spread across social media, with users praising KFC’s response to the crisis, and garnering an overwhelmingly positive overall reaction. 

Interested in how we could help you navigate potential crisis communications? Get in touch with our expert team.  

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Ellie Howorth