Social Media for PR Crisis Resolution

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently” says investment tycoon Warren Buffet. And he’s right. In fact, in today’s social media age, your reputation really can be tarnished in minutes.  Social media management can make or break your brand, especially during a PR crisis. And the bigger the brand, the harder the fall, with brands like H&M, Lush, RyanAir and Facebook all coming unstuck in 2018. 

social media for PR crisis resolution

Social Media & PR- The Stats

·     59% of businesses have experienced a PR crisis but only 32% have a disaster recovery plan

·     78% of people who complain to a brand via Twitter expect a response within an hour

·     85% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations

·     Only 6% of brands have automatic alerts set up against their brand name and keywords

·     According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, a dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience

·     70% of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint swiftly.

What is Crisis Resolution?

Crisis resolution is defined as a series of steps taken to deal with a catastrophic event. A  crisis is something that disrupts your business operations, threatens to harm people, damages your reputation or negatively impacts your finances. Famous PR crisis have stemmed from senior company figures behaving badly, poor customer service, a data breach, faulty products or database hacks. Being prepared for a PR crisis is key, so here are our do’s and don’ts of social media for PR crisis resolution.

DO– Have A Documented Plan

For effective PR crisis resolution, you need a well-documented plan. Your plan will involve key stakeholders and dictate the course of action to be taken. Whilst you cannot predict the nature of a PR crisis, you can pre-empt the course of action you will take should it arise. The first 24 hours are crucial when a crisis hits and the longer you wait, the more the online rumour mill will be firing up. 


Your documented PR crisis resolution plan should include the following:

  • Who are the decision makers in your company?

  • Which communication channels will you use to communicate your message?

  • Who will post the messages and handle the social media responses?

  • What will you do if the decision makers are away?

  • Do you need to get statements approved by legal/compliance?

  • What is your “out of office hours” emergency plan?

  • How will you communicate quickly with your company employees?

DON’T- Miscommunicate Your Message

One of the problems of a PR crisis is the panic it creates. Shareholders can see stocks dropping, CMOs are trying to locate online passwords, employees are worried about their jobs and writers are rushing to put out statements. This hotbed of panic can lead to poor decisions and a miscommunication of your message. In fact, miscommunication is one of the biggest causes of bad PR fallout on social media. 


Analyse your core communication channels and how you can effectively utilise them during a PR crisis.

  • Key social media channels (Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter)

  • Email your database

  • Update your website homepage

  • Issue a strategic press release

And in the panic of the moment be sure to double check the following:

  • Your statement has been approved by decision makers/legal/compliance

  • There are no spelling or grammar errors in it

  • Any scheduled social media posts or campaigns are paused

  • Update any ads if necessary

  • Be sure that your words convey the right message

EXAMPLE – United Airlines

united airlines crisis

A classic example of a company in a PR flap was the unfortunate United Airlines. The company’s stock and online reputation was trashed after videos of a passenger being violently dragged off an overbooked plane circulated online. United Airlines however, made the PR disaster worse due to their poor social media management and ill-advised comments. Let’s start with the Oscar Munoz’ “apology”:

United crisis.png

Yes, he used the phrase “re-accommodate”.And that wasn’t their only slipup. The company was also accused of deleting critical user posts and spreading conflicting messages on different channels.

united tweet.png

By the time United had issued a sincere apology, consumer perception dropped to a 10-year low. Social media was rife with memes and other airlines were swooping in to take the business. 

Do– Handle Your Social Media Calmly

Social media management should always be carried out by professionals. Whether you choose to manage it inhouse or outsource to an agency, you should be confident in the skills of your team. Handling social media accounts during a bad PR incident is stressful.  Depending on the severity of your crisis, your channels may experience an influx of bad reviews, negative comments, private messages, tweets and new forum discussions. You need a calm, confident social media manager who can liaise with senior management to handle the crisis effectively. Here are some tips for social media managers:

Never delete critical comments– today’s internet users have screen grab and will call you out.

-  Don’t be argumentative– The role of social media managers during a PR crisis is to stay cool, calm and collected.

-  Maintain your brand voice– your agency or social media team shouldn’t let things get personal or off-brand.

-  Communicate to your team- use your internal communication networks to keep your team informed about actions taken on various channels. Give clear directions for others and avoid making vague statements.

-  Don’t go silent- try to respond to as many people as you can. If the backlash is too severe, you’ll need to post a general statement which you can update as the incident unfolds.

Contact review sites- If you believe your reviews have been hijacked by users who are not your customers you should calmly reach out to the site to explain the situation. Refrain from angrily responding or adding fake reviews.

EXAMPLE- Amy’s Bakery

Amy’s Baking Company hit fame after receiving a scathing review on Kitchen Nightmares when Gordan Ramsey deemed them too difficult to work with. Owners Samy and Amy Bouzgalo then went on to violate every single rule above in their epic social media meltdown.

Amy's baking.png

Let’s start with the basics.

  • Block capital letters equal shouting

  • Multiple exclamation points show over emotion

  •  The brand voice has been completely lost

Amy's baking 3.png

 The company then went on to insult and threaten its customers.

Amy's baking 2.png

And attempted to ban the spread of information by threatening other channels and deleting comments. Amy’s Baking company is an extreme example; however it does illustrate the point of keeping things professional. This is a good argument for utilising the services of an outsourced social media team who will not get emotional and will act professionally. 

DO– Take Responsibility

Brands who take responsibility quickly and sincerely are more likely to see a PR crisis pass without too much damage. Similarly, being honest as opposed to spinning a web of lies will always work out better in the long run. If your brand is in the wrong, you need to address it. Apologising sincerely and launching an investigation is a good start. Declining to comment or issue any responses will make the crisis worse.


ü  Emphasize your positive track record- your content needs to put the bad PR in context to remind spectators that this is not your usual standard. A good example of this was Sir Richard Branson responding to the Virgin Trains crash in Cumbria:

“I’ve been in the transportation business for nearly 25 years. We have transported half amillion passengers and fortunately have never had to be in this situation before. One can only imagine what it was like for the passengers.”


  • Provide Updates- If you told the public you learnt lessons and were investigating the incident be sure to update them. Perhaps you implemented a new procedure or created a new safety rule. If you took steps to prevent it happening again then be sure to communicate this.

  •  Monitor Hashtags- Throughout a PR crisis you will need to monitor hashtags, and this should continue long after you think the crisis has blown over. During the Boston Marathon Bombings, the Boston Police Department had a hashtag strategic plan in place. Cheryl Fiandaca, bureau chief of public information stated “We corrected a lot of misinformation…we became a very reliable, solid way to get information.”

And The Winner Is

Last of all, we have a special mention for a brand who did handle their PR crisis with style. A chicken restaurant without any chicken was how KFC pointedly described its supply issues in the UK national press. The company was forced to close hundreds of UK restaurants last year after it suffered a poultry shortage.

But within hours of the problems coming to light, KFC had communicated with customers told them what was wrong, apologised and explained how they were fixing the issues.In the aftermath of the crisis, KFC also made jokes on its social media platforms and reordered its letters to FCK for a national advertising campaign. The brand showed that a crisis can be turned into a triumph with the right use of social media management.


Social media for PR crisis resolution should be planned in advance. To expertly align your social media channels and obtain a written communication strategy, please contact the Moondust team.

Marie-Helene Dibenedetto