Expert advice on managing a social media PR crisis

When it comes to managing a social media-related public relations crisis, a statement from top leadership is always necessary, according to local crisis communications experts. But they can often be difficult to craft.

Some organizations in Baton Rouge have become well acquainted with this dilemma in recent weeks. Take, for example, GoAuto Low Cost Car Insurance, whose CEO released a statement last week apologizing for referring to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as a “hoe” in a now-deleted Facebook post, or LSU, which is facing its own social media backlash for its alleged mishandling of sexual assault accusations, per a USA Today article published yesterday.

Regardless of the particulars, Matthew Ruiz, Octagon Media’s social media and digital analyst, says it’s absolutely critical that an organization addresses the crisis with its customers and other stakeholders in at least some capacity.

“If you disappear, you let the crisis defeat you, and it hurts your credibility,” Ruiz says. “It’s better to make a statement than to not make one at all.”

However, when writing a statement, executives should treat their consumers as intelligent adults, advises Ruiz, who notes angry consumers “can see through B.S. really quickly.” Therefore, it’s best to draft a response with the following end goal in mind: Forgiveness.

To achieve that, an honest acknowledgment of the situation is needed first, says Brent Sims, a principal and brand strategist at Rockit Science Agency. It should be followed by a sincere apology, and then, a commitment to change.

“Executives must demonstrate that they’re fully aware of what they said and understand how it can hurt their customers’ feelings,” Sims says. “They need to offer a course of action—classes, team training, etc.”

Once the statement is released on a company’s or executive’s social media channels, professionals will want to monitor the reactions of their followers and other social media users to gauge whether their response was effective in the short term.

Beyond that, and most importantly, companies must follow through on their promises. Sims points to how, after an allegedly racially charged incident at one of their coffee shops, Starbucks shut down all its stores for one day to give its employees racial sensitivity and customer service training, making it clear that what happened that day was unacceptable.

“I don’t know whether one statement defines a person, but it defines a moment,” says Sims, “and that moment can be a learning experience.”