Social media can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has revolutionized the way businesses interact with consumers. On the other hand, social media has a reputation for amplifying negative opinions. It’s not unusual for companies to be on the receiving end of consumers’ ire. What’s worse, the reasons may not even be legitimate. 

Therefore, it’s essential to make sure your team is well-prepared. You must be able to handle minor and major social media backlashes. 

💡 Read Crisis Management 101: How to Save Your Business When a Crisis Strikes

Things could spiral out of control if you don’t have a way to put out social media fires. Remember that telephone game you played when you were young? As they’re passed from person to person, words change and mutate into a different animal. 

negative opinion going viral
Make sure your team is well-prepared

In social media’s echo chambers, bad press can do the same thing. And there are millions of users. The last thing you want is a single negative opinion going viral.     

We’re going to explore some of the steps you can take. Here’s how to best navigate the social media challenges your company might face. 

Identify And Communicate The Risks

There’s no doubt social media can offer multiple benefits to your business. It is an additional customer service channel. That allows you to leverage word-of-mouth traffic. It also functions as a hub for your marketing content. Plus, you gain customer engagement insights in real-time. 

Social media is a cost-effective and multifaceted resource. So it’s important to safeguard it for the most positive use. This requires you to first get a thorough understanding of the social media damage control you might have to do. You must communicate damage control measures to staff effectively. 

What are the problems companies can find that result in social media working against their interests? Some common examples include:

Cancel culture 

Social media has put significant power in the hands of consumers. Cancel culture is one of the prevalent ways they’re asserting this power. Users are “canceling” corporations and businesses that behave in ways the public disagrees with. Canceling is a widespread call-out on social media channels. Offended people urge consumers to cease interacting with companies.

Cancel culture
Users are “canceling” corporations and businesses that behave in ways the public disagrees with.

Example: Bud Light partnership with trans-rights influencer

Bud Light’s influencer marketing fiasco is an example. Early in 2023, Anheuser-Busch partnered with Dylan Mulvaney. Mulvaney is a transgender rights influencer on TikTok. Rightwing social media users slammed the beer company on Instagram and elsewhere. The backlash led to a 23% decline in sales, according to CBS News.  

Social media users have an immediate, extended reach. Cancel culture can have a seriously disruptive effect on businesses. You should address it swiftly and thoroughly.

PR Crisis Management Ebook

Public Customer Service Issues 

Social media is a great additional customer service channel. But consumers can express problems with your company in a very public forum. This directs a great deal of scrutiny from current and potential customers.

Example: United Airlines kicks off a passenger

One glaring example is the United Airlines crisis that took place in 2017. In a case of customer disservice, security forcibly removed a doctor from an overbooked plane. The doctor had objected because he needed to see a patient. People filmed the incident and a video went viral. It got 6.8 million views in less than a day. It’s no wonder — the doctor’s face was bleeding as security dragged him off the plane.

This sparked a huge uproar. It even drew a harsh comment from President Donald Trump. The uproar was escalated by the airline’s CEO. He tried to defend his company’s customer disservice. As a result, the value of United Airlines’ shares plummeted.  

Reputational damage 

Cancel culture isn’t the only reason your company may require social media damage control. People can express any negative opinions. Complaints may or may not be accurate, but they can damage your company’s reputation

Former employees may air grievances. Activists might criticize lax sustainability efforts. Consumers could question your connections to supply chain partners experiencing ethical crises. 

Read 7 Ways to Protect Your Online Reputation

Reputation damage
Reputation damage

Example: Shell’s Make The Future campaign

Oil giant Shell took a hit to its reputation due to its 2018 campaign #MakeTheFuture. The campaign’s intent was to hook millennials. It included Instagram posts and a festival. Instead, it led to accusations of greenwashing and bad press from activist sites such as DeSmog.

Prioritize Communication And Teamwork

Train your marketing and social media teams. They must know how these types of issues arise and how they escalate. It’s worth collaborating with social media experts to do social media damage control. These could be consultants or people on your own staff. 

Work with them to understand more nuanced or heightened risks that are common in your industry. Or risks could simply arise in the current social climate. Make sure you regularly communicate evolving risks to everyone who touches your social media accounts.

Read How to Manage a PR Crisis

Understand Your Audience

Effective social media damage control isn’t just about implementing a set of standard response protocols. Every business has unique elements. Likewise, every customer has unique needs. This applies to social media damage control, too. 

One of the most valuable ways you can prepare your team is to give them customer insights. Let them know consumers’ communication preferences in damage control situations.

One effective approach you should take is to measure public opinion with data analytics with Determ. You can analyze online conversations to gauge public sentiment. Find out how people feel about your brand and issues relevant to your brand. See how your brand’s reputation stands in respect to the issues.   

Keeping a careful eye on public sentiment allows you to have a more intricate understanding of customers’ needs. You gain insights. You learn where they think you can improve your service and interactions. There’s also the chance to see early warning signs of reputational issues. 

Understanding your audience
Ensure that getting current customer sentiment data is a regular part of your operational planning.

Get ahead of the issues by using analytics, and they may not become issues. But if they do, you’ll be able to pivot faster because you’re aware.

You now have public sentiment information in hand. Your social media and marketing teams can start to adjust your response to social media crises

Focus on your brand’s voice. Align it with how consumers want to be spoken to on social media. 

You could also adjust which senior members of staff do social media damage control. Different demographics may expect different levels of accountability and transparency from executives.

Remember, though — doing this research is not a one-time activity. Your customers’ preferences will adapt over time. Ensure that getting current customer sentiment data is a regular part of your operational planning.

Read Improve Your Customer Support With Media Monitoring

Create A Clear And Structured Response

Clarity is essential to effective social media damage control. If your staff isn’t certain about how they’re supposed to act when issues arise, the problem can easily spiral out of control. You can best prepare your staff by creating a clear and structured action plan.

Some of the elements to include in this plan may include:

Immediate acknowledgment 

If a social media crisis arises, a delayed response can be more damaging. That said, it’s also important that your business fully investigates the matter. Therefore, your protocols should include your staff’s approach to immediate crisis communication

Reply to consumers’ comments or create a post related to the issue. You don’t have to issue a set script. That can feel artificial. Nevertheless, you must provide clarity on the tone and language staff should use in different scenarios.

Read Four Crisis Management Steps to Take to Stop a Disaster

Example: KFC’s chicken shortage

KFC’s acknowledgment of its chicken shortage in 2018 is a fantastic example. The company ran out of chicken. It immediately ran an ad with “FCK” on the chicken bucket where you’d normally see “KFC.” In the text below, KFC apologized for running out of chicken. This was a brilliant way of owning the problem instead of sidestepping it.  

Clear hierarchy escalation 

Entry-level marketing and social media staff shouldn’t have to handle a crisis on their own. Provide a clear chain of hierarchy for damage control. Chain of command may depend on the type of crisis or the potential for disruption. 

For instance, ethical issues may go straight to executives and public relations (PR) managers. Customer service issues might go to the department head.

Example: Southwest Airlines passenger disaster 

A good example is Southwest Airlines’ handling of a passenger’s death in 2018. Shrapnel on a Southwest flight dislodged and killed a passenger sitting by the window. Southwest didn’t hand off response duties to lawyers or PR specialists. Instead, the company handed out $5,000 checks to surviving customers. This decision had to come from the top.    

Read Crisis Management Plan Examples: The Best & The Worst

Handling core issues 

The crisis might arise on social media, but a deeper core issue could have caused it. Find out what the core issue is instead of looking at the surface. Make deeper investigation into core issues a part of your structured plan of action. And most importantly, take action to address the issue.

Read How To Deal With Brand Damage And Rebuild Your Brand

Example: Whole Foods product labeling problem

In 2015, Whole Foods got caught mislabeling food products. This was a core problem. Customers must be able to trust essential information about a company’s products. Whole Foods denied it at first. But then its CEOs owned up to it. The company made social posts about what it was doing to fix the problem. It instituted a third-party auditing system.  

Following up 

During any social media crisis, your brand needs to keep your followers regularly updated on progress. Your plan should outline which members of staff are tasked with follow-up. Establish who is supposed to follow up on the issue with individual consumers. And establish who should make posts about the wider problem. 

It’s also wise to formalize how often these updates occur. Identify the types of media that are most appropriate for responses. For instance, bigger issues may require videos from executives or links to blog posts.

Identify the types of media that are most appropriate for responses.
Identify the types of media that are most appropriate for responses.

Example: Chipotle E-coli outbreak

Chipotle’s responses to its E-coli situation are a good example of social media follow-ups during a crisis. In 2015, 60 people got E-coli at Chipotle restaurants in 14 states. It was a PR nightmare (not to mention, a real scare for those poor folks who were poisoned). 

To fix it, the brand created infographics sharing crisis updates. It also shared improvements on its social channels. That way, the public could view consistent, informative, digestible updates. Chipotle’s social team also focused on sharing positive press and comments on Twitter and other channels.  

Engaging collaborators 

The support of key partners is essential to social media damage control. Your plan may include details of social media influencers or business network partners who can assist. They might be able to signal-boost your damage control posts. Or they can provide positive testimonials about your company to counteract reputational disruption.

Example: Tide PODS and Rob Gronkowski

Tide did this well in 2018. Young people started eating Tide PODS. They were sharing videos of themselves doing it on platforms like Snapchat. Tide then partnered with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Together, the company and the influencer made posts urging against the consumption of Tide PODS. This helped snuff out a potentially terrible trend for all involved. 

Make your response plan accessible

You should also ensure staff can easily access the details of this response structure. Create a comprehensive document. Share it via a cloud platform. This means staff can access it wherever they are. 

Make sure it’s in an easy-to-follow format. For instance, create a flow diagram that illustrates the damage control steps, with links to more detailed instructions.


Preparing your staff for social media damage control can mitigate the negative impact of a crisis. Get to know the hazards. Adapt your responses to your demographic’s needs. A structured plan of action can also make the process run more smoothly. 

You should also bear in mind that prevention is better than the cure. Alongside using your audience research for damage control preparation, seek to understand where the growing points of dissatisfaction are. Then you can make changes in your business before little issues escalate to a full-blown crisis.  

If you want to know how to react when a crisis occurs or how to prevent it, book a demo with our specialists and see how we can help you!

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