The 4 R’s Of Crisis Management

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Social media & online notifications are so much fun. As someone who manages several online brands and accounts, I love getting those little dings from Sprout Social, watching my mobile light up, or seeing the red numbers on Facebook go sky high.

That is until I’m pushed into crisis management mode.

You know, like when someone leaves a scathing review about your product, one of your employees, or the way you conduct your Facebook page.

Luckily, we have yet to get a complaint about “fluffy social media” … but it COULD happen to anyone.

That’s why anyone who manages online properties should know the four Rs of crisis management!


Crisis Management Means Having A Plan

I have to have a prelude to the four Rs because the first R (spoiler alert) is “React.”

I hate to react. I know it’s impossible to prepare for everything, but I feel it’s important to be proactive versus reactive where possible.

This is where your plan comes into play; for our clients, we call it the ‘Risk & Response Plan‘ – and it’s essential during times of crisis.

It’s important to remember that your audience members are taking note when they see peer-to-peer comments and recommendations. A recent Trust in Advertising Report released by Nielsen shows that 84% of customers globally trust peer-to-peer brand and product recommendations, an increase of 6% since 2007.

Flying by the seat of your pants while managing a billion-dollar brand can get you fired in a jiffy. So, in those situations, you MUST be prepared.

How so? By:

  • Having prepared responses for known or foreseen issues (but not using them word-for-word when getting the same complaint … remember the Home Depot crisis where they tweeted the same, canned statement over and over again and looked like an uncaring robot?)
  • Having a call tree — or a list of who to reach out to immediately following a crisis — to implement
  • Being genuine and honest (and NOT being defensive) when planning for possible crises, AND when answering complaints online

By the time a crisis rears its ugly head, it’s often too late to repair the damage. And the reputation you have been building for months, years, or even decades can be mangled in mere minutes.

Let’s hope that’s not the case, though, and see how the four Rs of crisis management may help you during your darkest hours …


Let’s hope you’ve followed my prelude advice and have some sort of plan in place. If not, it’s okay. Keep calm.

First things first, if you don’t have a plan in place, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who should I contact regarding this complaint?
  2. Do I know this person? Are they a “regular” or someone new to the community?
  3. Do I know of similar/other issues with this (product/service)?
  4. What’s the best way to respond?


By now you should have:

  1. Contacted the appropriate people.
  2. Thought about how to respond based on conversations with your team (or yourself).

It’s not time to respond yet. You still need to:

  1. Research the user: Can you tell if they’re a legit community member, customer, or client? Did they name a specific employee, product, or service in their complaint? Did they include any visuals or links?
  2. Research the issue: You should know if you’ve had similar issues in the past. Also, if the user uploaded a picture or link, be sure you view and/or read everything they’ve given as proof. READ. EVERY. LINE. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen community managers respond without reading the WHOLE complaint or the links associated with it.
  3. Google Search: If you’re still at a loss for what to say, Google “social media crisis no-nos” or “social media crisis wins” to see how others got themselves out of hot water.
  4. Does this person have a habit of leaving bad reviews/comments (aka: Are they a social media troll?): This is rare and very hard to prove. If you can’t 100% absolutely without a doubt prove that the complainer is a troll, then you can’t delete or ignore their comment, and it’s best to respond as if it’s your best customer standing there giving you the business.


The two biggest things to remember during a crisis are speed and communication …

You want to reply as quickly as possible (while not ignoring the first two Rs), and you want to stay in communication with your dissatisfied customer. Don’t have an answer by end of day? Try:

“Hey, Brooke. I wanted to let you know that I don’t have an answer yet, but we’re working hard to get you one. I’ll reach out as soon as I hear something.”

And I can tell you from personal experience, that both blog commenters and shareholders alike appreciate when you validate their feelings:

“@User1234 I’m so sorry to hear we didn’t provide X for you. May I contact you by phone to get this resolved?”

“I’m sorry I don’t have information for you right now. Did you see our latest press release regarding X? [LINK]”

“We were not aware of this situation – thank you for bringing it to our attention. I’m taking it to our internal team right now to get resolved.”

Notice I never said, “I apologize”? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like that statement is a cop-out; it’s a “sorry I’m not sorry” kinda thing. I could be wrong, but I’M SORRY is a very powerful statement.

The other thing you’ll notice is that even if I don’t have an answer, I let them know that I’m working on one, or where the latest information can be found regarding the issue.

9 times out of 10 — and I’m totally serious here — your complainers just want to be heard. A response is all they need, along with some sort of validation (I’m sorry … that sucks … we messed up … we’re working on it … thank you for letting us know).

I have this one shareholder who tweets me (and by “me” I mean our client) weekly when the stock prices are down to complain. He’s always satisfied with my response, even if it’s just, “I don’t have anything to report, but promise to personally tag you when our next release is out!”

And then guess what? I DO tag him. Follow-up is key.


We’ve already been over I’m sorry versus I apologize. So I won’t get on my soap box about that.

But, there is something to say about being authentic online. I have an extremely astute bullshit meter. I know when someone is saying sorry but going through the motions.

My feeling is that if you can’t have empathy, and REALLY understand what it means to get out of your little world and know that someone on the other side is really going through some shiz, that you SHOULD NOT be the person handling online media sites or crisis management.

Admitting mistakes is one of the most transparent and authentic things you can do. And it goes something like this:

“We totally screwed up.”

“Well, this is embarrassing …”

“I completely dropped the ball. So sorry!”

“To tell you the truth, that was not my best moment.”

“I did a stupid thing. And I’m really sorry about it.”

The ways to show remorse are endless if you’re open minded, willing, real, and understand that your community will love you more for being honest than being perfect.

P – RRRRfect Crisis Management

So remember, for P-RRRRfect crisis management it’s:


Then …

React, Research, Respond, Remorse.

Did I miss any? What would you add? Let me know in the comments section below!


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Brooke B. Sellas is an award-winning Customer Marketing Strategist and the CEO & Founder of B Squared Media. Her book, Conversations That Connect has been recognized nationally and is required reading for a Customer Experience class at NSU. Brooke's influence in digital marketing is not just about her accomplishments but also about her unwavering commitment to elevating the industry standard of digital customer experience and customer marketing.
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Category: Business, CMGR, Community Managers
Tags: crisis management, Risk & Response Plan
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