Risk vs. reward—how to protect your brand reputation on social

by | Jun 20, 2018 | Public Relations

How much dust should you kick up to get your client’s brand noticed on social media? Some marketers would argue a lot.

We are in an age where people are completely saturated by brand messaging and advertising. So, brands have little choice but to come up with innovative and engaging marketing campaigns.To do that, they must spark and stoke campaigns that get noticed and connect with their audience.

But this is an art.

The necessity to stand out can easily lead marketers down the wrong path. Hastily planned messaging that lacks foresight and empathy is common.An intrepid attempt to stand out can easily go against your clients branding, rub consumers the wrong way, or spark a full-on PR crisis.

In this ultimate guide, we will explore the current social media minefield that’s responsible for making and breaking brands and marketing campaigns. Here you will learn:

  • The difference between poor and good messaging in risky marketing campaigns.
  • How to avoid mistakes made by those who attempted risky social media marketing campaigns.
  • What social media governance is, and how it can help you protect your agency and your clients
  • How to develop a social media governance plan
  • How to develop a crisis plan for your agency and your clients

8 Golden Rules for Pushing the Social Media Marketing Envelope

How far should you push the marketing envelope to get your clients noticed on social media?

Think of it this way: every time you send out a message, tweet at another person or brand, or post content on a social media account, you’re putting your clients entire reputation on the line.

Now ask yourself that question again… your answer might be different!

How can you push the envelope in your marketing campaigns while maintaining respect and composure online?

Below are eight lessons learned from some social media losses and wins. We’ve included commentary and steps that should help you guide your social media teams efforts.

1. Avoid poor attempts at humor

Winston Churchill once said, “A joke is a very serious thing.” No kidding!

Finding a brand voice and creating content that makes people laugh and smile is a precious thing. But a joke or tone that causes offense can cost your clients plenty of goodwill brownie points.

Even social media ninjas who do humor well make mistakes.

For example, Wendy’s is well known for their Twitter shenanigans, but one day a social media manager posted a meme of Pepe The Frog, a character co-opted by the alt-right, on the company’s behalf.

Wendy's Pepe social media response

It was an innocent mistake, but the backlash was immediate, and they made an apology.

A humor misstep can completely unravel the goodwill you worked hard to build.

Because Wendy’s apologized quickly and managed the situation well, they were able to bounce back and continue sassing other fast food chains online.

When it comes to making a joke on your clients’ social accounts, always make sure that they give you their blessing.

Humor isn’t appreciated by everyone. It might go against your client’s branding efforts.

An essential discussion to have with all of your clients should be about humor, and how far you can take it with their brand. Make sure you set clear boundaries before moving forward (to the fun stuff).

Avoid this misstep by:

  • Being cautious of a meme’s full story and life-cycle before using it (do your research!)
  • Asking yourself if it’s worth it to make a joke about that particular subject and at that point in time. If you can say no at least once, then hold off.

2. Editorial approval is a MUST

McDonalds Black Friday Social Media Mistake Error

Whoops. McDonald’s tweeted this obvious placeholder on Black Friday 2017 and they were immediately poked fun at all over social media. Wendy’s got a good dig in too:

McDonald's Black Friday Wendy's Response

You don’t want your followers (or other brands) poking fun at your grammar, spelling errors, or editorial mishaps.It looks unprofessional and foolish, and it makes your client look bad. It could also lead to miscommunications in the worst case scenario.

On top of all this, the last thing your agency wants is a reputation for poor communication and sloppy delivery.

How could McDonald’s have saved their pride? Their social media manager could have enlisted the help of an editor, for one thing.

But this mishap is easy to miss.

Think about it: it’s incredibly difficult to sift through and edit social media posts that are in a spreadsheet.

We all know how annoying and tedious spreadsheets are!

This type of error would have been much easier to spot in a social media post mock-up that was presented in a list.That social media manager surely could have used an amazing content approval software that ditched spreadsheets, and only published approved content! 😉

Avoid this misstep by:

  • Investing in software (like HeyOrca)that makes content review easy to view and understand, and only allows approved content to be published.
  • Enlisting a trusted editor. Those grammar police are relentless! You might accidentally let approved content with poor grammar slip through the cracks.

3. Be sensitive to insensitivity

Sometimes it’s hard to fathom who comes up with outrageous brand messaging. Radically insensitive marketing can get loads of attention for all the wrong reasons.

For example, a car ad of a man who tries to kill himself using his car exhaust fails his suicide attempt when the car only emits water vapor. In what world is suicide an acceptable ad concept?

H&M monkey in the jungle ad

Or, take the H&M monkey in the jungle hoodie campaign incident. No one at H&M seemed to notice the racist connotation. Nevertheless, social media users expressed their outrage. This messaging severely hurt H&M’s brand reputation.

Company advertising and external product messaging isn’t usually a marketing agency’s responsibility. However, this is beside the point. Sometimes insensitive or ignorant comments can fly under the radar and do serious damage–even if no harm was intended.

The public is aware and sensitive towards social injustices and microaggressions. That means that communication professionals must be increasingly aware of their words and gestures in internal and external communications. Everyone should be actively thinking about how their campaigns could affect and harm others.

Avoid this misstep by:

  • Getting your team up to speed with inclusivity training. They should regularly attend workshops and participate in activities that challenge their assumptions and empathy.
  • Being empathetic. Think about how others might see or interpret your campaign. What would it look like through the eyes of someone suffering from mental health issues, or someone who is a racial minority?
  • Working with a culturally and racially diverse marketing team. A diverse team can easily spot poor messaging that could pan out badly for your clients.

4. Authentically relate to your audience

Let’s face it: not every brand can be Old Spice, Dollar Shave Club or Poo-Pourri.

Old Spice has been around since the 1930s, but their path to becoming a brand that creates those wonderfully wacky Terry Crews commercials was a long one.

Being authentic means being true to your brand values and your target audience. If you try to pose as someone (or something else), you will only confuse and alienate your fan base. Your efforts to be trendy could jeopardize your brand, or make it look foolish at least.

Take this tweet from Domino’s. It most certainly qualifies as trying too hard:

As marketers, it’s your job to understand your audience, what they want, and how to talk to them. If you can’t do this, then you need to go back to the drawing board, and even further back to the research stage.

Avoid conflating your clients’ audiences. Using the same messaging and branding from different campaigns and companies will only leave you wounded. Maybe that was the Domino’s marketing teams Achilles heel!

Avoid this misstep by:

  • Avoiding improper or unnecessary use of slang (it’s cringe-worthy at best).
  • Relating to your fan base in a way that they can naturally recognize (don’t be a poser).
  • Being original with each of your clients’ marketing strategies.

5. Hashtags are fun, but proceed with caution.

Think very carefully about marketing campaigns that are based on unique hashtags. Be especially cautious of hashtag campaigns that your team develops specifically for your clients’ brands.

Hashtags can be a fun way to engage an audience and connect with new people. However, it’s very easy to use them incorrectly (see Domino’s incident above), or mistakenly implicate your brand in a ridicule disaster.

McDonald's Stories

Hashtags such as #CoalisAmazing by the Australian Mineral Council and #McDStories by McDonald’s were turned right back on those brands with messages of mockery and protest.

Within a successful marketer lies a quiet PR consultant who thinks one step ahead of the campaign.

If your team or your client decides to invent a new campaign approach, then be sure that you’ve thought about it inside and out. Share your thoughts with your client before executing the campaign.

If your your client has a questionable campaign idea, then show them how their idea could implode. You may convince them to forego it. They might not want #McDStories tacked onto their reputation at the cost of engaging their audience, for example.

Avoid this misstep by:

  • Giving all branded hashtag marketing campaign ideas considerable thought before releasing them. Ask yourself if they could take a wrong turn that could implicate your client in a detrimental way.
  • Being sure that you are using the correct hashtags, and not just trying to be trendy to attract new fans

6. Be cautious of how you leverage news and trends

All social media managers and digital marketers know that jumping on a hot trend or news event is a great way to boost brand and content virality.However, this can immensely backfire if you’re trying to hop on a trend that doesn’t relate to your brand or its values.

In fact, jumping on a news trend for the sake of virality can be easily spotted as a tactless PR stunt. You can mar your client’s reputation, and the public might perceive them as insensitive.

For example, a tweet about the best buns caused immense controversy for Cinnabon–who knew?!Carrie Fisher Cinnabon Best Buns

When Carrie Fisher passed away in December of 2016, Cinnabon posted a tribute to the actor by referencing her beloved Star Wars character, Princess Leia, and the resemblance of their buns to her hair.

This message, although not malicious in intent, received a fair amount of backlash. While some people took it in good fun, suggesting Carrie Fisher herself would have enjoyed it, many people took issue with a company using a celebrity death to try to promote their products.

The backlash was strong enough for Cinnabon to take down the post and issue an apology.

Its easy to capitalize on events. Strike while the iron is hot, right? However, acting in haste can lead to tactless decision-making.

American Apparel Hurricane Sandy sale

Take American Apparel for example. Their intentions may be questionable, but their marketing surely lacked foresight.

Inclement weather, such as devastating hurricanes, aren’t an event to celebrate and leverage for brand awareness (especially shopping) unless you are providing support to those who are affected. However, it’s bad taste in most scenarios.

It’s also a bad idea to jump on a social movement bandwagon when your brand has little or nothing to do with that movement. It comes off as gauche and fake.

For example, take the universally maligned Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad. Pepsi tried to make light of Black Lives Matter, which is nothing to make light of.

This is not to say you can’t take advantage of current events or trends. It means that you need to weigh the events you wish to work with, and critically think about how they relate to a brand.

Oreo managed to win a lot of retweets when it used a major U.S. power outage during The Super Bowl to remind us that we can still dunk in the dark. So, this marketing ‘stunt’can be done. It just needs to be contextually appropriate.

The last thing that you want is to launch a marketing campaign that positions your client as an unempathetic, unaware, and tasteless company.

Avoid this misstep by:

  • Making sure you always get second and third opinions on copy and images. This will help you to make sure you’re not going to push any major buttons.
  • Consider whether or not a trend, social movement, or news event is contextually relevant to your marketing campaign and your clients brand.

7. Be on High Alert All the Time (Hackers / Fraudulent Accounts / Disgruntled Employees)

If you have a high profile client, then you’re most likely at risk for someone hijacking their name or social profiles. Always assume that brand hijackers have malicious intent, and weave this into your agency’s before and after crisis plan.

Take all hijacking situations into account when you begin working with a new client. Ask them if they:

  • have ex-employees or partners who have a vendetta against them
  • had any issues with brand hijacking or defacement in the past
  • can foresee any future political problems that their company might experience

It’s good to understand your client’s political situation before you begin strategizing, planning, and executing their marketing campaigns. This gives you some foresight into good and bad strategic moves that could affect them in the long term (and beyond)

AP Associated Press White House Explosion tweet

Hacking is a serious matter. Hackers took over the official Associated Press Twitter account in 2013. They tweeted that there had been an explosion at The White House, and that President Barack Obama was injured. This had enormous ramifications as the stock market took a $200 million nosedive.

Shell was also made to look foolish when Greenpeace and The Yes Lab created both a fake Shell campaign website and Twitter account for an Arctic drilling campaign. They hijacked Shell’s brand, but many people believed them to be legitimate Shell accounts. This ended up spreading propaganda against the company.

As a marketing agency, one of your top priorities should be your clients’ social media account security. Plan ahead by investing in account password security software, such as LastPass, if you manage multiple social accounts.

Your agency should also establish a security protocol as well as a social media governance procedure that controls permissions for social media posts on all client profiles (see the sections below for more information).

Avoid this misstep by:

  • Controlling client social media profile permissions to limit employee access.
  • Leaving content approval and publishing rights up to your clients and trusted colleagues. Use a software that only allows approved content to be published by those who have permission to do so. HeyOrca is a pretty choice option 😉 !
  • Scanning your devices and accounts for viruses and firewall issues regularly.
  • Utilizing social listening software that helps you detect brand hijacking issues before they spin out of control

8. Do Not Stay Quiet During a Crisis

If you get your clients in hot water, the last thing you should do is stay silent on social.

Taco Bell lick social media prank

This Taco Bell employee posted a prank photo of himself licking a bunch of taco shells and it blew up on the Internet.

Rather than Taco Bell issuing a statement through social media, which is where all the commenters were, the company issued a statement on their website.

To make matters worse, they disabled comments on their Facebook page overnight after they received a wave of backlash on the channel.

Silencing customers rather than addressing their concerns is never a good idea. It is absolutely essential to take ownership for mishaps, no matter how small they are. This is true even if your client gave you the okay on a campaign, or told you to do something even though you advised them not to.

Marketers and PR pros should take notes from KFC and their marketing agency, Mother London.

KFCs UK mishap at the beginning of 2018 was handled expertly. After logistical errors, hundreds of franchises had to close or limit their menus because they never received their chicken shipments.

image of KFC's fck ad

As a quick comeback, KFC made a very public announcement and apology for the inconveniences they caused their customers. They ran a full print ad in the London Sun and Metro as an apology for their ‘fck-up’.

Avoid this misstep by:

  • Publicly acknowledging when you’ve made an error and doing your best to rectify it on the channels that matter most.
  • Allowing people to voice their concerns, rather than silencing them.
  • Trying to make light of the situation. Everybody loves a little self-deprecation.

Image of Social Media governance plan for marketing agencies

Successful Social Media Governance for Agencies

What is Social Media Governance? Simply put, it’s the road-map that your agency will use to prevent social media blunders, and it’s the set of rules that you will follow in the event that your firm does blunder.

Think about it as your agency’s ability to juggle communication freedom with regulation and diligence.

In order to juggle these well, your agency must have procedures, policies, tools, and assets in place. If a crisis occurs, you will be able to handle it at the drop of a hat while minimizing as many risks as possible.

Why have a social media governance plan?

Despite all the major social media gaffes in the news, 73 percent of companies still didn’t have formal social media policies in place.

This is mind-bending to say the least!

A brand can suffer crippling damage due to a poorly thought out campaign or PR crisis.

A well-defined social media governance plan will ensure that your employees will know their roles, and that your social media marketing machine runs smoothly

5 Keys to Successful Social Media Governance

1. Social Media Ownership and Delegation

As an organization, you need to determine:

  • Who owns social media at the top-level
  • Who leads social efforts in every department
  • Each department’s responsibilities

Formalizing ownership ensures that no departments responsibilities are left ambiguous. It also helps prevent people from dropping the ball due to confusion.

As social media changes, your agency’s governance plan should change as well.

Below is a task delegation map that your agency can follow for department task compartmentalization.

Image of Social Media governance plan

Marketing and Communications

Marketing and communications professionals are an essential component of your social media governance execution.

They own all social media brand initiatives and channels. And they strategize all communication, organize all messaging (i.e. press releases, and personalized inbound communications), monitor posts, craft responses, and listen to social activity online.

Ensure that your marketing and communications department has a firm grasp of the road map, as they will be implementing it in all external communications.

Information Technology

Think of your IT team as the gatekeepers and protectors throughout your social media governance plan. They ensure that your data privacy is secure, which is a huge part of crisis mitigation.

The IT team will keep your social media channels under lock and key to help avoid hacking issues. They will also manage permissions and access to social media channels. Despite this, they will not delegate social media post ownership.

Empower your IT team by giving them the tools and programs that they need to keep your firm and you clients secure and safe.

Customer Service

The customer service team is an essential component of your social media governance road map. They will directly communicate with your clients, and at times, they may communicate with their audience. That means that they must own the social media customer support channel for your agency.

As expert negotiators and empathizers, your customer service team will play a crucial part in dealing directly with clients and inquiries.

They are a huge asset to your marketing and communication team as they can help them with any consumer issues that come up in your clients’ social media channels.

Allowing the customer service team to train and work with the marketing team will help promote messaging consistency. It will also help each team shape their responses so that they align with the audience, the product, the market, and the crisis.

Legal / HR

The legal and HR team is like a back-end developer who helps with messaging quality assurance.

The legal team ensures that your agency complies with laws and helps your firm avoid lawsuits due to communication errors. Your legal team is your right hand for regulatory and legal issue management.

Moreover, the HR team is responsible for improving agency-wide consistency. They will train your entire team on social media governance procedures, processes, compliance, and collateral.

In addition to that, your HR team is a great asset for messaging and crisis avoidance. They can use their inclusivity, empathy, and negotiation skills to review messaging, and catch errors or problematic concepts before they go public.

2. Social Media Training and Education

All of your team members must be on the same page. Messaging must be consistent, skills competence must be addressed, and a editorial chain of command must be clear.

It seems small and inconsequential, but an offhand Facebook post can stir up controversy if a couple words are accidentally used, and they’re posted at the wrong time of the day.

Your agency must establish social media guidelines as a part of new employee onboarding and all employee training.

Develop training collateral that is unique to your agency on the following:

  • Basic social media literacy
  • How to set up / optimize personal social profiles
  • How to use each platform and what types of messaging, tone, and content is used on each channel
  • Protocol for adjusting privacy settings
  • Social media brand guidelines
  • Client social media templates to follow for public-facing content
  • Agency values for public interactions on social media (i.e. courtesy, humility, moderation, timeliness, etc.)
  • Company photo guidelines
  • Photo size charts for each social platform
  • Posting times
  • Editorial chain of command
  • Accountability and reporting procedures in case something goes wrong

Don’t expect your employees to be mind readers! Your agency must design a clear protocol to guide your team. Without one, it will be difficult to avoid problems.

All employees must be aware of how they interact with your clients’ audience. They must also know what they are and aren’t allowed to say about your clients company and it’s competitors.

This helps control and prevent crisis: if mistakes aren’t made in the first place, then there is less to worry about in the future.

This article provides excellent guidelines for creating a social media training program from an HR perspective.

3. Branding Guidelines and Continuity Planning

Marketers who are actively communicating on behalf of your clients’ social channels must be practicing the client’s company brand guidelines for social.

If your client doesn’t have brand guidelines then offer to help develop them together. Although it takes a bit of elbow grease, it will leave less room for misunderstandings, ambiguity, errors, and problems in the future.

Branding guidelines for social should include the who, what, where, when, why, and how for the following:

  • Voice, tone, visual identity and other writing style parameters
  • Grammar style parameters (if you’re a picky agency!)
  • The use of non-branded images, stock photos, GIFs, and memes
  • Tagging protocol for businesses and personal profile
  • Use of hashtags and geotags
  • Content seriousness vs. playfulness

All of these elements should be covered in a social media brand guide that is unique for each of your clients. Your agency should also develop a branding guide for your own firm’s communications.

A sample from MailChimp’s content style guide

Your community manager or social media manager may leave your agency. This is why you need to make sure all processes and assets are logged. Any unwritten social media guidelines must be documented and ready to be passed on to new employees.

This helps ensure continuity within agency practices, as well as continuity within accounts.

For tips on creating an epic style guide, be sure to look to Mindscape.

4. Approval Processes

Social media messaging mishaps of agencies past could have been avoided if marketers had a better approval process.

As much as you trust social media managers, it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes in judgment.

Sometimes it’s just spelling and grammar, but other times you need a sober second thought to tell you if a message or campaign is missing the mark.

Take the Carrie Fisher Cinnabon post, for example.

Chances are there was an approval procedure. But did the marketing team get an HR or legal perspective look over the post? These professionals would be able to spot potential offenses in the post.

It may seem like a buzzkill, but having these perspectives can save your agency from landing in hot water in the first place.

To make sure you get all the right eyes on planned content before it goes out, use a social media tool, such as HeyOrca, that offers a multi-stage content approval process. You can decide when content will go live, and how many approval stages and eyes it must pass before the public sees it.

5. A Crisis Plan

Crises can emerge from anywhere, and without warning. Your agency will likely have to deal with the backlash on social media, regardless of where the crisis is or if you were responsible for it.

Your crisis plan should implement your governance plan. Everybody should clearly understand what their roles are in a crisis situation. Include remediation steps in your crisis plan that will help you solve the problem.

A quick and well-thought-out response can completely diffuse a situation.

Consider the following when establishing a crisis plan for your agency:

  • Consult each client about their crisis plans. Their procedures can inform your agency, and help you understand if crisis should be handled differently than planned.
  • Don’t be afraid to consult an expert to help you build your crisis plan. Public Relations professionals deal with crises all the time. They could offer excellent advice.
  • Make notes after every crisis situation.

Always remember: don’t be silent for too long.

The longer you wait to address legitimate concerns, the less likely they are to blow over. Be transparent about how your agency is taking care of the issues. Share this with your clients and the public.

Image of Social Media crisis planning for marketing agencies

How to Create a Social Media Crisis Plan for Your Agency

The point of having a social media crisis plan is that it’s in place and ready to go whenever a crisis occurs. So, if you haven’t established one yet, then get your ducks in a row and build one! Jay Baer calls this “lifeguard mode in his book, “The NOW Revolution.”

A poorly handled crisis can severely damage your client’s brand and your agency’s reputation. Nobody wants that!

So get ready and start planning. See how to do that below.

image ofdamage assessment from social media crisis plan for agencies

1. Understand the crisis inside and out

The best way to tackle a social media crisis is to fully understand the issue. Break it down into categories so you can gauge its severity.

First, consider where the problem came from:

  • Does the issue stem from your client (their product or activity, for example)?
  • Does the issue stem from your agency (something saidin your communication)?

Next, understand if the crisis is really a crisis:

  • Is it an angry customer taking their complaints to the internet?
  • Is it a large, yet manageable issue or sticky situation?
  • Is it a wildfire crisis that is cropping up on various social and internet channels?

The most typical characteristic of a crisis is when there is an ‘information asymmetry.’ This happens when your agency, your client, and the public don’t have a clear understanding of what’s happening. In addition, crises are typically drastic changes from the norm (i.e. when a totally different type of public criticism and interaction occurs).

Then, understand the severity:

  • Will it impact your client’s business long term?
  • Are people upset, or are your client’s customers angry?

Finally, understand what you can control:

  • Is this crisis within your agency’s control?
  • Is it in your client’s domain?
  • Do you need to consult experts to help you (public relations specialists or lawyers)?

image of rapid response after social media crisis for agencies

2. Be a First Responder

Once you have a better understanding of the issue, it’s time to send out a first response.

The first thing you must do is notify your client. Update them on the severity analysis that you conducted (in section one). Let them know that you will handle it. Ask them if they wish to have a part in quelling the crisis. They may wish to have extra legal help to avoid issues down the line.

Next, develop a preliminary public message acknowledging the issue, and send it out on the best social channel to do so. The channel should match the place(s) where the crisis is most prominent. So, if there is a crisis on Twitter, respond there first, rather than on Facebook.

Even if your plan of attack isn’t fully developed yet, it’s very important to make everyone aware that you (and your client) are doing everything you can to fix it. The public must know that the brand is aware of the slip up. It’s is a huge step that will help you avoid a massive explosion.

image of developing a messaging strategy for social media crisis plan for agencies

3. Develop an Educated and Targeted Messaging Strategy

Client-Framed Messaging

If you have identified the crisis as something that’s in your clients domain (i.e. product recalls or poor corporate communication), then it’s absolutely essential for you to discuss the social media messaging with them.

It’s likely that they have something in place that has been developed by their PR and legal teams. If that’s the case, then your agency should adopt this messaging in all of your social communication that surrounds the crisis.

Agency-Framed Messaging

If you’ve identified the crisis as something that’s in your agency’s domain (i.e. social media post errors, or socially unaware marketing campaign), then you better roll up your sleeves! You’ll be in charge of developing this message and having it cleared by your client.

Consider the following while developing this communication and messaging strategy:

  • Your client’s company values. These should be the face of the messaging to maintain brand consistency. It will help you craft an authentic apology on behalf of your client.
  • Your client’s audience’s values. In order to create a proper empathetic response, you must consider your audiences perspective and values. This will help them relate and accept your communication strategy in an organic way.
  • Target the crisis pain-point and provide an actionable solution.
  • Make the crisis clear to the public and show them why you’re sorry and how you’ll fix it.

Develop a series of generalized messages that will go out on your client’s social media accounts. Create a few individualized templates. Your team can use them on consumers who privately reach out.

Remember: consistency is key. A slip up could enrage the crisis fire. Be sure that your whole communication team knows the messaging, why it was designed that way, and how they should implement it via the communication guideline.

image of creating communication guidelines during social media crisis plan for agencies

4. Create Communication Guidelines

Communication guidelines should be ready at hand at all times.

A ready-to-go template can be adjusted for each individual crisis. This will help you expedite the crisis solution process. You want to send out public communications as fast as possible and get to remediation ASAP.

Here’s what you should include in a general communication template:

  • The parties that will be public-facing voices throughout the crisis
  • Which members of your agency will be delegated specific tasks
  • Steps that encourage careful and accurate communication
  • Steps that avoid ambiguous messaging
  • How your agency will communicate with your client throughout the crisis
  • The collateral and messaging that you’ll share with your clients (they might want to use this for internal communication, website updates, and press releases, etc.)
  • The messaging timeline that establishes public updates throughout the crisis
  • Answers to FAQs that your whole team can use for the specific crisis
  • Social channel communication etiquette and procedures (what types of channels are appropriate for each crisis)
  • Specific language, images, gifs, memes, emojis, etc choices that your communicators must use or avoid
  • Individual response templates that will be sent to those who reach out
  • A chain of command for difficult questions and media inquiries (the client, PR agency, or c-suite of your agency, for example)

Start with a general template that you can pull up and edit for each unique crisis event. The template should be customized to address specific issues that your agency will face in a given crisis.

image of planning social posts during social media crisis plan for agencies

5. Pause, Then Launch

Pause your scheduled posts. Every post that goes out of your agency on behalf of your client should address the crisis. That means no curated content, no shout-outs, no #TBTs. Sever your clients current campaign and switch gears.

Always remember to maintain composure.

Once you’ve gotten you communication guidelines and strategy in place its time to launch them. Have your team monitor your social feeds with meticulous precision.

They should make sure that as many complaints are being answered.

They should be engaging with the community directly.

They should be communicating all the key messaging that you worked so hard to develop.

Make sure that your communication team doesn’t lose it over a tweet battle or an angry consumer complaint.

Always remember to maintain composure.

image of look at the social mentions during social media crisis plan for agencies

6. Look at the Landscape

Crisis rarely stay in one spot. They can be contained–but they have a tendency to operate like a whack-a-mole.

It’s a good idea to invest in social monitoring and brand reputation tools. They can offer your agency a helpful hand before, during, and after care for crisis management when you least expect it.

For example, you might think you have a grip on a crisis until a social monitoring tool tells you that consumers are lashing out on Instagram and Reddit—two channels you failed to pick up on.

Some good options include:

7. Damage Assessment

In order to do a fair crisis damage assessment you will need to compare older metrics as a benchmark.

Compare metrics from the week or two prior to the crisis week to those a week after the crisis.


  • Lost impressions, followers, and engagement.
  • Do an audience audit to see if the brands audience has changed. This might inform future marketing strategies.

Recover from the damage by going back to the past strategies and growth multipliers that worked for your client. It might be worth it to implement those strategies to recover.

Crisis KPIs:

To fully understand how the crisis affected your client, you must develop KPIs that measure the damage.

Consider asking the following questions to help you develop crisis management KPIs:

  • Is the crisis still in effect after the crisis management plan?
  • How will you determine successful and unsuccessful crisis management?
  • What insight have you collected from social listening tools before, during, and after the crisis?
  • What social metrics have been impacted by the crisis, and how can your agency recover them?
  • How will you measure client brand impact before, during, and after the crisis?
  • Have negative brand mentions affected your client?
  • What channels were most and least effective during crisis management?
  • Have influencer relationships been affected?
  • How long after the crisis are you receiving negative consumer feedback?

image of damage control from social media crisis plan for agencies

8. Damage Control

Major crises are long term issues that take more than a week to resolve. If it’s really bad and the crisis management didn’t fully extinguish the fire (and can’t), then expect backlash for the next few weeks.

Monitor the most heavy-handed attacks that come your way in the following weeks. Bring them to the attention of those who matter most (your clients, their PR managers, and maybe their lawyers).

Remember to keep an eye on your client’s brand by using social listening tools.

Continue to implement your crisis communication plan, but consider adopting new messaging as you move further down the timeline.

For example, you might need new messaging for sticklers who keep returning to old news, or who did not see apology messages.

Another measure of damage control includes special offers. This is something that you should discuss with your client. Offering consumers rebates, coupons, and gifts for their inconvenience can be enough to turn a wrong into a right.

image of lessons learned from social media crisis plan for agencies

9. Lessons Learned

Regroup with your team and discuss the crisis management system. How does everyone feel about it? Was it executed well, or poorly? Now’s the time to clear the air with constructive criticism, tough questions, and client feedback. Fill in in the following blanks:

  • Was the plan successful or unsuccessful? What could have been done to make it better?
  • What lessons were learned along the way?
  • How can your existing plan and templates change in order to improve for next time?
  • How could this crisis have been averted?
  • Who were the best leaders in this crisis?
  • Did everyone do their job sufficiently? If not, what was missing (guidance, tools, game plan, etc.) that would help them do their jobs better?

In order to be a better agency, you must answer difficult questions and intentionally work on your weaknesses. It might be difficult, but it is crucial. If you can avoid crises in the future, your clients will be happier, your agency will develop a trustworthy reputation, and your team will experience the growth that it deserves!

image of implementing findings after social media crisis for marketing agencies

10. Implement Your Findings

Asking tough questions is only part of the challenge.

In order to become the best and most trusted marketing agency around you must intentionally implement these findings. Take all the lessons learned and implement them in your crisis plan.

Doing so will make you more seasoned crisis managers. It will also help you avoid more crises in the future.

What client doesn’t want to work with a marketing agency that doubles as a PR and reputation management expert?

Your agency’s crisis plan template and playbook should always be changing!

After every crisis you should revisit your existing plans and make changes. Examine your findings throughout stages six to nine. Always edit your plan with the intention to improve it.

Evaluate crises from each client case and use them to improve your master plan.

Conclusion and Recap

Standing out on social is imperative for marketing agencies today. Clients want to get noticed online.

Some marketers gut reaction is to kick up some dust and do something gutsy—but this can easily backfire and cause crises for your clients’ brands at worst.

It’s more important than ever to be cautious on social media. Campaigns can quickly get out of hand, get published with errors, contain offensive content, or try too hard to connect with new audiences.

Can you stand out and push the envelope? Can your firm be the supreme creative marketing agency that youre trying to be?


Here’s how:

  • Learn from the missteps and wins of previous risky social media campaigns.
  • Establish and implement a social media governance plan now.
  • Create a social media crisis plan template that your agency can implement today, and can continue to change through time.

Start working on these three projects and you’ll be on the right track towards impressing your clients and their audiences!

This article originally appeared on the HeyOrca! Blog; reprinted with permission.

Nicole Silver
Nicole Silver is a content marketing specialist at HeyOrca! She’s a philosopher, writer, content marketing obsesser, data-driven hard worker, self-taught PR professional and pseudo-journalist.


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