No brand wants to find themselves in a social media crisis, but every brand needs to be prepared for.

It’s one of those “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” things. Like insurance.

You can’t let yourself and your communications team go in denial and pretend it could never happen.

One viral, “didn’t think it through” tweet.

One screenshotted SnapChat.

One employee logging into the wrong account.

That’s all it takes to have a crisis on your hands, my friend. And if it happens, you need a game plan, and you need one bad.

And here’s what it should include.

1. Determine whether or not it’s a real social media crisis

First of all, is the situation really a crisis? There’s a big difference between a sticky situation and a full-blown disaster.

Sure, both are bad, but there’s a big difference that dictates how your brand needs to react. So you obviously want to make sure the crisis is real and you’re not overreacting. No one likes a drama queen.

Ask yourself: will this have a real, lasting impact on our brand? Will it impact business results, or is it just talk?

We’ve all seen it: a Facebook friend getting totally outraged and going on a tirade about a brand for something that’s not even a big deal. And we all have that friend who needs a brand to be angry at in order survive on social media. It’s who they are, and we love them anyway.

With how easy it is for people to become keyboard warriors and how quickly something can go viral, not every sticky situation will have an impact. It’s perfectly possible to just move on without going into full-on crisis mode.

When things get more serious, however, is when a situation really will drive away customers and have other lasting impact on your business, your employees, etc.

Now, only your brand knows your customers well enough to determine that about a social media disaster. But when people start angry tweeting you on social media, take a look at who they are. Are they your customers, your audience?

Basically, who cares?

And I don’t mean that like, “Ugh, who cares?” I actually want you to answer that. Are the people angry with your brand actually your target audience or an important audience to you, or are they people outside of your important markets?

It’s never nice to piss people off, but if they’re not your audience or customers, it may not be a crisis.

2. Pause your scheduled posts

If something is a crisis, the first thing you wanna do is go into “crisis control” mode. That means not asking people to buy from you when the whole internet is mad at you. Timing is everything, after all.

Press “pause” on any campaigns and content you’d planned to put out on social media, and you may want to consider altering your schedule on other online channels, too.

The benefit here is two-fold:

First of all, as mentioned before, a crisis is not a great time to be marketing and selling. People aren’t happy with you, and people need to be happy to buy.

Secondly, this frees up your whole team to focus 100% on getting the crisis under control. It should be your number one priority, not a marketing campaign that will fail if everyone hates you, anyway.

3. Publicly acknowledge what’s going on

Staying in contact with your audiences during a social media crisis is so, so important. Beyond effectively communicating updates, you already need to comfort people by showing them you’re there and you care.

As soon as possible, acknowledge your brand’s problem or crisis on social media. Even if you don’t have a solution or real updates yet, put something out that tells your audience that you’re aware of what’s going on.

This lets people know that you’ve jumped on the issue quickly and care about solving it, as well as where to go for more updates.

At this point, it doesn’t need to be anything more than a short post on each important channel. You may want to consider reposting it a time or two within the same time frame to ensure your followers see it.

4. Create a social crisis action plan

Once you’ve checked in with your audience and let them know what’s up, it’s time to go into problem solving mode. It’s time to put your crisis communications plan into action.

Part of being prepared for a crisis means in addition to learning these 10 steps today, you’re also starting to work on them. You need a crisis communications plan long before a crisis every happens, since it guides your team in responding.

5. Inform your team

In addition to giving a heads up about the situation to your audience, you also absolutely have to consider any other stakeholders at the company.

Executive leadership obviously needs to know what’s going on, as they do with anything big happening to the company. Additionally, they might have to field questions from people about it and should be primed with a response.

Any support or customer-facing positions should be pulled into the loop as well. They may have customers and prospects coming to them with questions that they should feel confident in answering.

6. Work quickly but thoroughly

A social media crisis is not the time for perfectionism. You have a fire to put out, and the longer you wait, the more it will breathe and spread.

Your crisis communication plan should be lean and minimal. Once the crisis is over, you can focus on the lower priority parts of crisis management – now’s the time for high, DEFCON 1-level to-dos.

Work quickly by carefully and accurately. The last thing you need to do while dealing with one crisis is start another!

I won’t lie – this is tough. Toeing the line between “fast but effective” and “sloppy and confusing” can be quite the balancing act.

7. Give your audience frequent updates

It’s so important to stay in close touch with your audience in the middle of a social crisis.

For one, social media is real-time and your posts “expire” quickly in terms of reach. Someone may not have seen your tweet from a few hours ago, but are online now.

But also, keeping them in the loop can help pacify anyone angry or upset. Apologize continuously, let them know what steps you’re taking to remedy the company’s problem, and thank them for their patience.

When you don’t have any actual news to update them with, it’s best to keep it short and sweet.

If you are providing them with crucial news, it’s best to communicate the essential or most important facts on social, and link to a web page with more information. When it comes to this, it’s better to over-communicate than not share enough, and this lets you have a central location for the more detailed info.

8. Individually reply to concerned audience members

In addition to sending out blanket statements from your company to its whole audience, you’ll also want to address anyone that reaches out directly on social media.

Obviously, don’t waste your time engaging with trolls and such, but crisis management tools can help you find people who are legitimately concerned, the customers whose relationships you’re in danger of damaging.

If it’s a general angry or concerned tweet, let the user know they’re heard and instruct them on how they can stay updated. If they address something specific, address that topic directly as best you can. And if you can’t answer the question, be honest, don’t just try to sidestep it.

And for the love of social media, do NOT use automated or canned responses in a social media crisis.

9. Post a long-form response on your website

Remember that central location I talked about previously? Let’s talk about it a little more.

You want one “hub” that people can go to for information, so that you don’t have to only give updates 140 characters at a time. This can be a blog post that you update as you have more information, or a static page.

Add new updates and details as you have them, and it’s a great timeline of the crisis and place to direct social media users to. You can even embed social media posts to let people see all channels in one spot.

10. Let the dust settle.

Once you’ve performed steps five through nine, it’s kind of a matter of rinsing and repeating. You’ll go through them with each update you communicate to your audience.

Once they’ve done their jobs, it’s time to let the dust settle. Move on, but don’t forget. You don’t want to keep people’s attention on the social media crisis any longer than it needs to be, but you also shouldn’t avoid the topic if someone else brings it up.

At each stage of your social media crisis, there’s a different main focus. By following the steps in this post in the order they’re laid out in, you can make sure you’re dealing with things as they’re most urgent.