Causes of Crises: Overlooking Social Media

Social media is a fabulous – essential –  place to be. The rewards are immense.
However, too many organisations make some really basic mistakes. Amongst the most common are:

  • Inconsistent policies across numerous, inconsistent accounts;
  • Not having a strategy for its use;
  • Not monitoring.

Too often, even now, busy operational executives just want the social media  ‘problem’ dealt with. They know they have to do it, so half heartedly delegate the problem, which leads to…

The Intern Syndrome

Age is no indicator of ability, experience is more reliable. Sometimes people who haven’t yet discovered the joys of social for business have a tendency to write it off to younger people because of their own perceptions of social as ‘a young persons thing’. Some will be experienced but this bears no relation to age. Mark Zuckerberg was just 19 when he created FaceBook’s earliest iteration – he already had years of programming experience, yet there are others with experience only of social media is Snapchatting friends.

This attitude often means that they pass social media to someone with a strong personal presence, but little idea of strategy or messaging, and even less experience of corporate tone of voice. For a small company, if the individual fits the brand, this can prove fine – and for companies that sell only on price, the odd online spat is of little concern to them since it can create attention (and sometimes even SEO juice.

Social media is the most immediate, interactive, close communication with individuals outside of the sales process. It’s way too important to leave to the most junior team member. Yes, juniors can/should often be involved. Mix their life experience, views, creativity, freshness with that of other people. But temper this with a solid hand on the tiller and experienced customer care specialists/experts or sales professionals as required – according to what your social media channels are for!

Too many times to we hear the intern blamed for a crisis. They are there to learn, and we often learn by making mistakes. All of us have meade them sometime, but social media can be a painfully public place to make one. Leaving an intern to handle your social media unsupervised is not fair on anyone.

Failing to Prepare

Everyone has moments on social media. Indeed if a social media specialist has never had a problem, they shouldn’t be let out alone yet!

Much can be done to prepare for the inevitable, preventing a problem from becoming a crisis.

There’s nothing worse, for example, than needing to publish a statement, but finding that the internal contact list is out of date so key people to offer judgement, check the legals, or sign off publication are blissfully unaware of the fact that a storm’s brewing without them.

There are few things more frustrating for a social media manager than publishing something in error because something’s changed internally and no-one bothered to tell them. Totally avoidable, but all too common.

Crisis planning can stop these types of problems becoming crises. Social media training, notably messaging, can avoid problems. Social media policies, properly implemented and changed, can head things off at the pass.

Not taking your brand seriously

Behind Twitter handles called ‘The Real X’ or ‘X-Official’ is often the story of an unclaimed brand.

Someone grabs the ‘brand name’ Twitter account and pretends to be them. Sometimes this is incredibly funny, a deliberate parody and not intended to harm. In this case it’s hardly a problem, and in a roundabout way fairly flattering for the brand/company. But when someone pretends to be you to demonstrate an uncaring or hypocritical side in a problem situation, you have an even bigger problem than the initial lack of care.

Avoidable and Manageable

I’d estimate that around 80% of the crises I see would have been avoidable with better preparation and processes.

This doesn’t need to be administrative ‘sign off before posting’ nightmares. Whilst having posts agreed in advance can be a great way of managing routine marketing postings, any kind of customer care function or reactive sales presence should not be hampered by this – a social media team needs empowering, training and clear guidelines.

Some issues are sensitive and for reasons such as legal cases may demand standard responses, but beyond this, with only a few exceptions. you’re creating problems for yourself that could result in a crisis by allowing only fixed, approved tweets.


The debate over whether someone internal or external people should be driving social media often rears its head. The only possible response is ‘use the best person available’.

It’s way more genuine to have someone internal, and is likely to offer the responsible party easier access to expertise. But if there’s no-one available or skilled enough to do it internally, a good third party can be great.

Pick carefully. Know who’s doing the work. Don’t leave it to chance.

The choice of internal or external management is one that’s unique to each situation and, despite many claims to the contrary, is rarely the thing that will create, or fail to prevent, a crisis situation. It’s all about the individual(s) managing the social media account, and what help and support they are given – or giving.

Get help before you need it

Not taking your social media seriously? Address potential crises before you need crisis management support!

Obviously I’d love it to be me that you choose to support your crisis prevention, policies and training.

But whether it’s me or someone else you choose, do yourself a favour and plan with an experienced professional. Because social media crises, more than any other communications crisis, can spread a problem like wildfire, fan the flames take it out of your control.

Don’t leave that social media crisis planning on your ‘to do’ list: sort it now! It doesn’t have to take a lot of your time, and trust me, a crisis will almost certainly take a whole lot more time – and money.

Originally published October 18, 2018. Reviewed and republished January 2020.

Published by Claire (claireatwaves)

Founder, Waves PR To be found as claireatwaves in most social spaces. Helping people's reputations, online and off. Passionate advocate against adult grooming and groomers at

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