For brands, it can be futile to go on the offensive and try to prevent a social media fail incident from occurring in the first place. It can stifle creativity, lines of communication and the brand-consumer relationship. Of course, you can have measures in place to reduce the risk. Clear guidelines will set you up for day-to-day social communications and help to deliver a consistency in your tone of voice. But if something does go wrong, how you react will be critical.

Crisis Management Theory

Crisis Management Theory can help a brand to weather the storm. Let us look into three categories:

  • Proactive Reputation Monitoring -- looking to understand the significance of the incident and if actively listening can decrease the severity of a crisis
  • Proactive Reputation Management -- Understanding if a brand’s initial reputation can decrease severity of crisis
  • Proactive Reputation Response -- Determining if a follow-up response and action affect the opinion of the brand during a crisis

Let us play off two infamous PR-fail case studies that took place online and evaluate their handling of the crisis.

United Airlines

United Airlines broke the guitar of a passenger who turned his tale of woe into a song that he put up on a YouTube video. The resulting viral exposure it received had a significant impact online. The plunge in sentiment when the crisis occurred wasn’t as drastic as it was for other brands in similar crisis situations. This could be due to the already low sentiment surrounding the United Brand.

Following the crisis, the average positive sentiment was actually greater than it was prior as well. This is due to the giant spike in conversations toward the end of our 6-month search range around a Starbucks gift card giveaway on all domestic flights on United.


Nestle tried to censor a campaign against them regarding deforestation, resulting in a wave of negative feedback on their Facebook page.

Nestle had the greatest drop in positive sentiment from the average at the time of the crisis. Fittingly, Nestle also had the highest overall positive sentiment and thus was the “furthest to fall.”

After the crisis, Nestle’s brand returned to nearly the same average as it was prior to the crisis. The difference could be attributed to the lasting affect that the crisis had on some brand supporters.

Three Key Areas for Further Insight

Further insight can be gained from these examples in three key areas:

Monitoring -- If a brand is monitoring the conversations surrounding sentiment, they may be more likely to take action on a crisis in a positive manner by learning from experiences.
For example, United defending their customer service and increasing positive sentiment by issuing Starbucks gift cards on flights.

Management -- It seems as though a brand’s initial reputation and average sentiment do have an effect on the crisis, but in an inverted fashion.

For example, both Nestle and United had a greater positive sentiment and dropped further. United, on the other hand, didn’t drop as much during the crisis because people expected this from the brand.

Response -- Initial response is not necessarily a good thing, and interaction can influence an audience’s perception of the brand.

An example is Nestle and how they attempted to defuse a growing social situation by censoring content and going back and forth with commenters on their Facebook page. This is not an ideal way to respond to a crisis.

Be Prepared for the #Fail

The old adage of “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” rings true. Evaluate the unfolding crisis on merit, but at least be prepared for the #fail and take the appropriate action to prevent your brand becoming the next social media case study.


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