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How to Handle a Social Media Crisis as a Content Creator

The bigger you grow on social media, the more likely you are to run into a situation that requires deft handling. Here's how to tackle that according to expert Kait Shiels.

Mar 28, 2024 6 min readFlow
Photo of Kait Shiels
Kait Shiels

Founder and Managing Director of Spark Social Agency

Witnessing a crisis unfold on social media can often feel like observing a storm from the comfort of your home; there’s a profound sense of relief in being safe indoors, yet it’s hard not to feel concerned for those who aren’t, hoping they are well-prepared.

While some individuals might be taught crisis management theory at school when studying business management, marketing, or communications, the reality of a brand crisis is very different from the textbooks.

As a founder of an award-winning social media agency, where I learned how to manage a crisis through experience and gaining a true understanding of behaviors on social media. In the past decade, I’ve witnessed a spectrum of social media issues, ranging from clients who have accidentally associated with controversial figures to small businesses and creators whose minor missteps thrust them into the limelight. 

By helping clients through such situations, it is clear that while a rapid response is often the best approach, measured silence is sometimes golden. So where do we begin?

What is a social media crisis?

A crisis can be caused by any information that enters the public domain, whether a controversial post, a misunderstood tweet, a product gone wrong, or poor customer service. Ultimately, whether you are a small business owner building your brand on Instagram, or a micro-influencer creating meaningful content for their audience, one simple spark can ignite a full-blown issue.

Everything is under scrutiny on social media. A tiny mistake, an offhand comment, or a misinterpreted message can quickly escalate. People begin sharing their thoughts and becoming emotionally engaged in the issue, and before you know it, the issue has grown bigger and more complex. 

Unfortunately, social media algorithms love engagement, whether positive or negative. So, when a crisis accumulates likes, shares, and comments, the platforms amplify it, pushing it to more feeds. The Consider it adds fuel to the fire; before you know it, the smallest misstep poses a risk to your brand on social media. 

When to ignore or respond to a crisis on social media

Measured silence isn't about turning a blind eye or pretending an issue doesn't exist. Instead, it's about taking a moment to breathe, to collect all the facts, and to fully understand the context before diving into the fray. 

Consider it the difference between a knee-jerk reaction and a thoughtful response. Whether you are a small business navigating through supply chain issues or a content creator who has been misquoted on a podcast, the impulse might be to set the record straight immediately. 

Sometimes, that is the right move, but there are also situations where wisdom is found in allowing the narrative to unfold and letting the initial storm of reactions pass before you weigh in. Here are three scenarios involving social media crises and how they were handled.

Three social media crises and how they were handled  

Molly-Mae and Diary of a CEO podcast

Consider the scenario involving Molly-Mae Hague and the “Diary of a CEO” podcast. Faced with backlash, Molly-Mae chose a path of measured silence over a knee-jerk response, allowing the narrative to calm and unfold fully before offering her response

Molly's team's approach of waiting and watching for a few days demonstrated strategic patience. They acknowledged that a hasty response could have fanned the flames rather than doused them in this particular situation. When it was time to speak, an authentic and sincere response enabled Molly to recover her personal brand without adding to the damage.

Ballerina Farm

It is important to recognize that prolonged silence can sometimes be misinterpreted as indifference or avoidance, further damaging a reputation

When TikToker Ballerina Farm failed to address the mounting criticisms against her unrealistic and misleading content, she gained notoriety. The creator appears to be waiting for people to move on, continuing to post the same content she always has, without realizing her actions likely require addressing to continue to build her audience. 

The key lesson here is that when chosen, silence should be a temporary and strategic part of a broader plan focused on eventual transparency and clarity.

ParchmentPaper.Com 

As a creator or smaller business, it is crucial to understand that everything you say individually reflects the larger brand. 

A recent situation involving a small parchment paper company shows this to be more true than ever in our digital world. A CEO of a parchment paper company, intending to express a personal viewpoint, commented on a creator’s video.

The remarks suggested the creator’s life was “easy” and devoid of “real skills” – a perspective that, regardless of intention, came across as dismissive and out of step with the creativity and hustle that defines so many in the creator community. 

When the creator, assuming the company account was compromised, reached out in good faith, the CEO’s response was not an apology but a doubling down on the initial statement. 

Key takeaways

For me, there are three lessons from each of these situations. 

Firstly, self-reflection is powerful – recognition of when we’ve erred and should offer a sincere apology is so important to prevent further brand damage. 

Secondly, small businesses and professional creators must navigate the complexities of maintaining a brand’s voice across the personal and professional divide at all times. Whatever steps we take when responding to a crisis should always resonate with our core values and foster an online culture of empathy, respect, and understanding. 

Finally, post-crisis, take the time to listen and learn. Engage with your community to understand their perspective and gather feedback on your response. This is not just about damage control but about growing stronger through adversity. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn, improve, and demonstrate your commitment to your audience and those supporting your brand.

Things move very quickly on social media, so an adequate response to crises is critical. There's no one-size-fits-all strategy; the best course of action depends on the unique circumstances of each situation, whether it involves an individual or a brand.

How to make the right moves in a social media crisis

Navigating the fast-paced world of social media can often feel overwhelming, especially in today’s unfortunate and unforgiving ‘cancel culture’ world.

Understanding the value of rapid response in these situations is more than a skill – it’s an art. So when should you react quickly, and how can you do it gracefully and effectively?

  1. Reacting vs responding: In the heat of the moment, it is easy to react – quick, knee-jerk actions driven by emotion. However, responding, which is thoughtful, measured, and strategic, is where the sweet spot is. Assessing the situation objectively is the first step. Take a breath. Gather all the facts. 
  2. Reassure your team and stakeholders: In times of crisis, your team looks to you for direction. Reassuring key players –- your brand partner, team assistant, or even an investor - is paramount. It’s about letting them know you’re not just aware of the situation but are actively managing it. A calm, collected approach can be contagious, setting the tone for your entire response effort.
  3. Building your crisis A-Team: We understand that small businesses and content creators won’t necessarily have a large team they can rely on. However, it is always wise to have someone who can work alongside you and maintain a clear head to ensure that any decisions are made objectively. You don't need a hefty budget to monitor your brand's online presence. Tools like Google Alerts are invaluable for small businesses and creators. They offer real-time insights into what's being said about your brand, allowing you to respond swiftly and appropriately. It’s about smart, strategic monitoring without breaking the bank.
  4. Stay ahead of misinformation: Immediate engagement can differentiate between a manageable situation and a full-blown crisis. By stepping in swiftly, you prevent misinformation from taking root, helping you maintain control over the narrative. It's about being proactive, not reactive.

Mastering the art of strategic communications

Navigating the waters of social media crises demands a blend of patience, strategic silence, and authentic communication. 

Understanding when to engage and when to wait is more an art than a science and requires a deep understanding of your audience's context and needs. Above all, it is essential to remember that honesty and authenticity resonate with audiences, fostering a connection that can withstand the trials of public scrutiny and controversy. 

Next time you see a crisis unfolding on social media, observe how the digital world responds and learn from it. And remember, behind every small business or Instagram account, a person is trying their best to navigate the challenges of our connected world, so be kind and thoughtful.

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