September 20, 2023

Types of social media crisis and how to handle them

By Jean de Salins
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Any brand with a large social media presence knows that at some point, a social media crisis is likely. 

Whether it’s a controversial campaign or an unlikely new brand ambassador, their social media channels are the first place people go to share their opinions with the brand, and each other. 

Social media has had a meteoric rise in popularity over the last 20 year. Today, every company needs to be on social media if they want to compete in their chosen market. Social networks are a great tool for communicating directly with customers and increasing brand awareness. But it's almost impossible for a brand to control what people say on their pages. Negative criticism is there for everyone to see. If a brand makes a big mistake, it can escalate into a very public communication and PR crisis, played out on social media. 

Types of social media crisis

  • Multichannel 

As the name suggests, a multichannel crisis is one that spreads across channels. This means it has the potential to seriously damage brand reputation. From monumental meltdowns like Kanye West with Adidas to less catastrophic incidents, multichannel crises are far-reaching and can be long-lasting. These kinds of crises need to be addressed quickly to contain the spread and refocus attention on the brand in a positive way.

  • Industry-wide scandals

Brands are not immune to the concept of 'guilty by association'. When one company in a certain industry experiences a PR crisis, the negative press attention can affect other brands, too. Whole sectors have been affected by scandals over the years. The fast-food industry, for example, has been marred with controversy, from Taco Bell’s ‘mystery meat’ to McDonald’s’ nuclear-hot coffee, which resulted in a highly-publicised lawsuit in the mid-90s. Social media makes news like this spread further and more quickly. By monitoring what competitors are doing and distancing themself from activity which could draw negative attention, brands can avoid or minimise their involvement in industry-wide scandals. 

  • Emerging

Brands can take control of an emerging social media crisis, but only if they act quickly. By paying attention to interactions on social pages, brands can see this kind of crisis brewing. For example, a fashion house might se recurring criticism about the size of model they are using in a campaign. In this scenario, they can address the issue internally and communicate externally about the steps they are taking to feature more diverse body types, before a communication crisis occurs.

  • Fake news and rumours

Left unchecked, fake news and misinformation can cause financial and reputational damage to a brand. In 2016, Pepsico. stock fell by 4% ahead of that year’s presidential election, thanks to a fake news story in which the company’s CEO was alleged to have told Trump supporters to ‘take their business elsewhere’. The fictitious quote originated in a blog and quickly spread on social media. It was widely believed by millions of Trump voters and sparked the hashtag #PepsiBoycott. Thankfully, by keeping track of company mentions and what people are saying about them, brands can quickly address and correct rumours.

What can trigger a social media crisis? 

  • Insensitive posts/bad timing

Whether it’s a social media caption, a website message or a misguided campaign, brands sometimes act insensitively. It’s usually the result of being out of touch with their customer values, or because the brand doesn’t have a grasp of current social and cultural issues. Often, this kind of activity is a genuine (and expensive) mistake. But sometimes brands will throw caution to the wind and proceed with a campaign, ad or message that they know will cause controversy. 

  • Website and technical issues

No website is perfect, and every company will experience a site outage or failure at some point. When this happens, customers quickly take to social media to ask when it will be fixed. Twitter is a great example of this kind of activity: some users have even created accounts solely for the purpose of interacting with customer service channels. For brands, the priority (aside from fixing the problem) is to give customers as much information as possible via their social channels. 

  • Customer complaints 

If one customer criticises or complains about a product on social media, it can quickly snowball. After all, people are far more likely to share if they have a negative experience with a company than a positive one. This kind of feedback can be useful for brands when it comes to improving their offering. But it can also be damaging if lots of people see the complaints. To mitigate this, brands should acknowledge and respond publicly to show that they value and act on customer feedback. 

  • World events and natural disasters 

World events and natural disasters can (and often should) affect how a brand communicates. For example, it would be insensitive for a company to share an upbeat, cheerful video or promote a sale on the same day as a major terrorist incident or a deadly hurricane. Instead, brands should acknowledge major incidents appropriately, which could even mean not posting for a day or two. 

  • General criticism

If a brand gets any of the above wrong, it's highly likely they'll attract criticism online. The world of social media can seem daunting, especially for brands in their infancy: but no business is perfect, and all companies are trying to successfully navigate the potential pitfalls of social media.

Fortunately, there is an ever-growing selection of tools and integrations to moderate content on social media. Brands can use these to anticipate a communication crisis and to respond effectively.

How social media moderation can help 

A social media crisis can be a brand’s worst nightmare. But there are things they can do to manage a crisis well or even stop one before it starts. 

Moderation of user generated content on social media is one of the best ways to protect brand reputation and online communities from online toxicity.

There are a couple of approaches to social media moderation. Human moderators are currently used by many brands. Whilst human moderators can recognise and remove toxic content, it can be difficult for them to keep up with large volumes of messages. The job can be challenging, as moderators are often exposed to distressing content. There’s also the question of nuance: what one person thinks is a racist comment, another might not. This kind of inconsistency means that some toxic content will inevitably slip through the cracks. 

The other approach is a fully-automated one using software designed specifically for moderating social media. These kinds of tools are able to process large amounts of content instantly, and use machine learning to detect and remove toxic content. Machine learning tools are always learning and refining their capabilities to deliver the most accurate moderation. But it does have its limitations. Different languages, spelling errors and emojis can make it harder for these tools to recognise toxic content.

The most effective way to moderate content, is a combination of both the above approaches to cover all bases, which is what Bodyguard provides. 

Bodyguard is an AI-powered automated content moderation tool which detects and removes toxic content on social media pages and other online platforms. By doing so, it helps to protect brand image and reputation. But it also gives brands a clear picture of what people are saying about them, so they can better understand their audience and anticipate and respond to social media crises.

Social media moderation using Bodyguard puts brands in control of what is shown on their social media pages. It's not about stifling interaction or stopping criticism. It's about drawing boundaries between what is acceptable and what isn't, in a public forum.

Bodyguard analyzes millions of messages in real time and multiple languages, and presents what it finds in a simple, single dashboard which gives users a 360-degree view of activity in their social media. This invaluable information lets brands see when a crisis is brewing and what it is about, so they can decide how best to respond. Bodyguard also gives brands the gift of time, with an alerting feature which notifies users when there is a spike in activity and creates more time to formulate your response before negative criticism goes viral.

Want to know more?

Want to talk to a member of the team? We offer content moderation for online communities to suit every size and budget. Contact us today to find out how we can help your brand to mitigate the risks of social media crises.

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