What Every Communications Manager Needs to Know About Managing a Crisis

Silhouette of female office worker staring at computer screen
Silhouette of female office worker staring at computer screen

News breaks in real time, whether that news is good or bad. If you’re a communications manager, real-time news can be beneficial or devastating depending on what’s being reported. So, how do you prepare? John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

Communication managers in today’s world need to put a social media strategy into their planning. A Gartner study reports, “75% of organizations with Business Continuity Programs will have public social media services in their crisis communications strategies in 2015.” This makes sense, because social media is the fastest way to spread any message in today’s digital world.

A case study of DiGiorno Pizza using social media effectively

A good example of a company that handled a social media crisis effectively is outlined by Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics software company. They analyzed the case of DiGiorno Pizza during a recent crises. The pizza company accidentally jumped on a serious conversation about domestic violence when it mistakenly used a trending hashtag. DiGiorno quickly recognized its mistake, deleted the tweet in minutes and gave an apology. But within seconds, users on Twitter took screenshots of the post and the brand quickly began to receive negative publicity.

In the ten days following DiGiorno’s regrettable tweet, 72% of all brand conversation was related to the crisis. But 21% of that conversation was positive, with only 5% being negative. The key was that DiGiorno acted fast, owned up to the mistake and offered personal apologies to those who publicly took offense. They tweeted more than 200 personal apology messages to users who were offended by the brand’s tweet. The research showed less than 1% of the conversation about the crisis over two months was negative while 6% was positive. The DiGiorno brand recovered well past the crisis.

Steps to take for controlling crisis with social media

Outlined below are five steps organizations can take to help navigate a crisis more smoothly using social media according to a Huffington Post article:

Be aware

Monitor outside social media by keeping tabs on major platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. This can be as easy as setting up free Google alerts. Key things to track within Google alerts are your organization’s name, CEO or other high-profile company people, products or services by name, your blog name, your events, and your competitors.


Listening means noticing and responding immediately to comments and social media mentions. It also means not deleting negative comments, unless profanity or abusive, or racist remarks are made or otherwise questionable comments are made. It is better to respond with a positive twist on the negative comment. During a crisis, your customers want to feel like they are heard, like their opinion matters and like someone hears them and will take action.

Be transparent

Try to make your updates on social media in as real-time as possible. There is no need to admit fault if it is not determined, but at the same time, let your viewers know the hardship or changing circumstances warrant. Your statements could be phrased such as this: “We are aware of the challenge and will be giving live updates here.”

Get feedback

People want to feel as if they are being heard and providing feedback to them is as easy as saying, “Thanks for your feedback, we’ll be giving more details within the hour.” You can also offer feedback to a broader audience through website and blog updates. YouTube videos and Facebook updates also work well.

Make resolution

If you take the steps above to solve your crisis, you can quickly resolve issues using social media. It will be easy to update those affected, and the messaging at this point should thank people for their patience. Outline your solution, apologize as needed and reassure your customers that this has been a learning lesson for your company and you now have an effective plan in place to avoid any similar situation in the future.

Social media crisis management is not so much about perfection, but more about honest understanding and helpful behavior during the crisis. Social media can be an easy tool to make the resolution smooth and quick for all sides. Spring Arbor University offers an engaging online Master of Arts Communication program to help you navigate issues in today’s media landscape. Learn more now.