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United in a Social Media Crisis

Social Media and PR should work hand in hand when dealing with a crisis. And your digital team should be prepared by having guidelines. These guidelines will help make the issue easier to deal with as all your employees will have clear guidelines on what to do. In the case of United Airlines, I would class as a major PR/Social Crisis, and dealing with it needs to be swift and immediate. It's important to pitch it right, humour in this case, absolutley not.

It needs to be dealt with at human level, show your audience you care.

Your Crisis Plan should be customised for each situation

Brief the Team

Everyone in the company needs to be aware of the crisis, this includes stakeholders, managers, the sales team, your digital team, and any front line employees. It's imperative everyone is aware who is managing the crisis and they need to be armed with a briefing sheet, this includes the company response and other vital points of information. Ensure your message gets to everyone, use every solution possible, email, text message, internal blog, intranet, instant messaging.


This is one of the very first steps to take, and it's vital to get this right. Public Acknowledgment takes you from being a Logo to a personality. The Public acknowledgment should be on as many forms of media as possible, depending on the surverity of the situation. In the case of United, this should be through a Television Interview, Radio, Blog, Webpage, social media and a press statement.

Put your Crisis Social Team into Action

Manage your social media channels and allow people to make comments and express themselves:

  • Post the apologies and be sure to check your scheduler and remove any inappropriate scheduled posts.

  • Tone of voice and any response rate this should have been decided during the Crisis Briefing, follow your plan.

  • Know When to Take it Offline: crisis management isn’t about winning, it’s damage control. Some people will be so angry, no matter what you say, you are not convince them of anything.

FAQ Page

A webpage or microsite should include all the information about your crisis. This will allow you to respond to questions and engage with customers. Saving time, it also stops any misinterpretation of your responses on social media.

The FAQ page should include:

  • Acknowledgement and Apology of the crisis

  • Updated information about the ongoing progress of the situation

  • Specific actions which are being taken

  • Steps which will be taken to prevent future occurrences

  • Contact information and links to all your social media channels

  • An open comments section to allow feedback.

Social Listening Tools

Using Social Listening tools gives your organisation the ability to monitor all conversations about the crisis:

1. Allows you to follow real-time conversations, making it easier to keep track of all issues

2. Can be used as an early alarm system, especially if the conversations take a new twist

3. Follow all possible Hashtags and influencers on social channels

4. Listen to other conversations outside your social channels and monitor keywords

Learn your Lessons

Once the crisis has died down, (Although in the case of United, this may take awhile) you will need to measure all aspects of social media to get a real sense of what happened, this will help you develop your Social Media Crisis plan, and hopefully, in the future you won't need to put it into action again!

Review other companies who have successfully or not so successfully managed a social media crisis, such as O2, RedCross or JC Penny.

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