Successful Social Media Crisis Management

Every social media manager should remember that he or she plays a role in customer service. Sometimes, however, it seems like this is forgotten, resulting in a social media gaffe, embarrassment, and on occasion, a full-blown meltdown (I’m looking at you, Amy’s Baking Company). It’s always easy to criticize and point out what a company did wrong. We do it so often that we usually overlook corporate role models: companies that have handled social media snafus with skill and dignity. Here are three of their stories and what you can learn from them.

Burger King

The award for fastest resolution may very well go to Burger King over a photo posted to the Internet earlier this year of an employee standing on top of two open containers of lettuce. Though not Burger King’s fault, it immediately reflected poorly on the judgment of its employee, the quality of its ingredients, and likely diminished interest in further patronage by Burger King customers.

But almost as quickly as the Internet got a hold of this incriminating image, Burger King responded. Through tracking the online trail of the post, users of the site where it was first posted were able to locate the store with the offender and publicize the act to local media outlets as well as to Burger King. Three days later, Burger King fired the offending employee as well as two others and issued a public apology assuring customers that this sort of behavior was not tolerated and that food safety was a top priority.


It happens a couple of times a year. Social media managers aren’t managing only their business accounts––they’re also managing their personal accounts. And sometimes they mess up. (This social media manager may have posted some of his personal VanScavenger Hunt pictures under the corporate account.)

KitchenAid ran into that problem when an insensitive comment about President Barack Obama’s grandmother that was clearly supposed to be on a personal account was tweeted on the company’s account. This immediately alarmed Cynthia Soledad, KitchenAid’s senior director. Immediately, she sent out apologies via Twitter. Having an upper manager issue the apology and take action, not by skirting the subject but by addressing it head-on, was the perfect strategy against the possible catastrophe.


Sometimes, a well-meant tweet can be misconstrued. Starbucks learned this in 2012, when it fired out a tweet apologizing to its Argentinean customers for running low on supplies and having to temporarily use Argentinean-made, non-branded cups and sleeves. Rather than being taken as a courteous update for customers, it was instead interpreted as an insult, the implication being that Starbucks was apologizing for using what it perceived to be inferior local products until its own arrived to replace them.

Starbucks reacted swiftly and appropriately with its response, issuing an apology with full transparency and legitimate remorse. Fighting back would have made the company seem like it had something to hide. Admitting it made a mistake, whatever the intent of the original tweet, humbled the brand and allowed it to save face.

So how can you learn from these brands and not become the inspiration for another article on what not to do? Listen to what your customers are saying. Both in person and online, have the proper tools in place to detect anything that may be damaging to the reputation of your business. Next, have a crisis plan, complete with a chain of command, worst-case scenarios, and multiple solutions to the possible issue. If a crisis surfaces, follow the plan, taking appropriate action to get to the source of the problem, while also addressing all those who may have been affected. Make sure to solve the problem, not fight, using a lighthearted tone that is also sincere and apologetic. Finally, review the entire incident and evaluate what could be done differently should anything like that ever happen again. This way, you’ll end up a social media champion instead of a target for critics and customers alike.

Author: Zack Smith


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