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3 Ways to Tell a Social Media Problem From a Crisis

Posted Under: Social Media
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What constitutes a crisis? Discovering that someone has left a review saying they saw a mouse at your restaurant is certainly disconcerting. But is it a crisis? No. The social media monitors in your organization need to have a mutual understanding of what is a real crisis and what the subsequent escalation procedures are.

what isn’t—a social media crisis.Merriam-Webster defines crisis as “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.

The dictionary guys got it absolutely right, and their definition is an excellent prism through which to examine what is—and what isn’t—a social media crisis.


If you know all the facts and can respond to each person coherently and assuredly, it’s not a crisis. If you’re in the middle of the “fog of social media” and you don’t really know much more than the critics, it’s definitely a crisis situation.

As Sully’s plane hit the Hudson River, US Airways was absolutely in a social media–fueled crisis, as on-the-ground reports were conflicting and passengers and passers-by had more information than the company. Once the dust settles a bit (which can take anywhere from a few minutes to a day), information symmetry is restored and the crisis passes.

Decisive Change

If the conventional wisdom is just being amplified, it’s not a crisis.

Nike is consistently accused by certain groups (often wrongfully) of engaging in less-than-ideal labor practices. On a regular basis, blog posts are written and commented upon, tweets are sent, statuses are updated, and so on, with allegations of that nature. But, that doesn’t constitute a crisis for Nike, because it isn’t a decisive change from the established patterns of information and volume. They know it’s out there; they know how to address it, and they do.

A crisis is under way when a new issue emerges and the conversations around that issue spike far above the baseline level.

Highly Undesirable Outcome

Someone not getting the scone they paid for in drive-thru isn’t a crisis. It may be a frustrating turn of events for the scone-less customer, but it’s not likely to turn viral.

A highly undesirable outcome means that the issue affects or is of interest to a very large portion of your customers or prospective customers and has potential to do lasting brand damage. Thus, if you’re a regional or national company, local shortcomings don’t usually signify a crisis, unless the underlying issue is not geographically specific.

A social media–fueled crisis, then, is something that possesses one or more of these qualifications as it unfolds in real time across the social web:

1. You don’t know what’s happening.

2. There is a spike in commentary or a new topic of conversation.

3. An issue with very broad impact or interest is raised.

Fight Fires by Hand

But even once you have an organization-wide understanding of what’s a crisis and what’s merely a problem, social media crisis management is still largely a human issue. You can’t fight a fire until you first see smoke, and that’s more about people than technology.

Regardless of which tool you employ to monitor the social web, unless one or more persons are responsible for operating that software and leaping into action when necessary, the whole exercise is doomed from the first log-on. And that responsibility can’t be constrained by time or date. Social media doesn’t take weekends off . . . or nights . . . or holidays.

Who in your company is responsible for monitoring the social web when your business is closed? If you have a 24/7 call center or any sort of round-the-clock operations, someone on that team should be charged with keeping an eye on social conversations about your brand. If you don’t have nighttime and weekend operations, you may need to rely on an alerting system and have an especially dedicated employee (or yourself) be at the ready like a firefighter with an iPhone.

Are you ready for a crisis, should one occur?

(image by Shutterstock, a Convince & Convert sponsor)

The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter, and More SocialThis is the sixth in a 7-week blog post series covering themes included in The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter, and More Social – my new book with Amber Naslund, debuting February 1 (pre-order now and win prizes!).

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