It’s every brand manager’s worst nightmare: an online crisis that has taken on a life of its own and is posing a real threat to your brand reputation.

It could be a negative comment from a customer that’s gone viral, an online reaction to a brand action in the ‘real world’ or an accidental post by a staff member.

But social media monitoring can help avoid situations such as this arising – or can help you regain control if one should occur.

Be prepared

Firstly, you should be using a monitoring tool to track mentions of your brand on an ongoing basis and there should be someone responsible for keeping track of it. This may be a brand manager or community manager, or a whole team.

Have a plan or protocol for what to do should things go wrong – it’s impossible to predict every eventuality, but some rough guidelines around how responses will be dealt with and by whom, and a plan for internal communication, will be invaluable should a crisis hit.

Using buzz as an Early Warning System

The most obvious method for determining possible crises is to monitor the volume of conversation about your brand online.

If a sudden peak occurs, or conversation appears to be increasing at an unusual rate – especially if it is of negative sentiment (see the Findus example below) – take a look into what that conversation is about.

By looking into the conversation you will have a greater understanding of why volumes have increased and can then act on it appropriately before it escalates.


Keep a close eye on common topics within conversation about your brand. You can identify topics using automated topic analysis, such as the topics component in Brandwatch, or by pre-defined rules and categorisation.

Take notice if there is a sudden change or increase in a particular category, as this might be an indication of growing discontent. If negative phrases and words or new phrases start appearing in your topic cloud, this should ring alarm bells and needs further analysis.

For example, if your brand sells cars and you see a big spike in mentions about seatbelts, say, investigate that conversation and discover what is driving it.

Often, if you can identify problems early on and quickly act on them, you can avoid the situation escalating – and becoming more public. You may find that the issue is due to your marketing angle, or become aware of defaults with your product that you can then correct.

Monitor & respond

It’s a good idea to monitor conversation about your brand and respond to negative posts on a regular basis. Customers who are angry or dissatisfied are likely to be get more indignant and angry when they feel they are being ignored.

Take the case of Ryanair last year – a simple response to the original post complaining could’ve avoided a customer complaint going viral and being spread across the internet like wildfire.

For a brand such as Ryanair, that has stated in the past that it is not particularly bothered about customer service, this situation was somewhat less damaging than it would have been to a company that prides itself on customer service.


We recently discussed all the different types of alerts that are possible with Brandwatch that can help with PR management, so we won’t go into them all in detail again here. But, in brief, alerts can be set up to email you when there are increases in volume, or even alert you every time specific words or phrases are used, meaning you can stay on top of possible problems wherever you are.

What to do next?

Once you are aware of a situation that has the potential to turn into a full scale crisis, or already has, take steps to calm the situation by showing customers that you are listening and want to help. You may need to apologise – publicly or to specific individuals – and then take steps to rectify the situation. Remember the following steps:

  • Plan – Set about drawing up a pre-planned set of guidelines for how to deal with crises
  • Monitor – Make sure someone is always monitoring conversation online about your brand
  • Acknowledge – The first step is to acknowledge the problem/issue and apologise, whether or not you can offer an explanation or resolution straight away. If you can’t offer a resolution, let them know that you are looking into it/will keep them updated.
  • Inform – Keep the public and your comnmunities up to date with any new information or any steps that are being taken to help the situation. If appropriate, set up a dedicated FAQ on your site, and continue to feed information through your social channels. By keeping the public informed, you remain in control of the message and can hinder the spread of misinformation. It will also help to abate some of the anger as the public will appreciate being kept informed.Also keep your staff informed of the situation and any updates, and also advise them on what they should do should they be contacted by the public or press.
  • Respond – Respond to comments and questions as much as possible. The sheer volume may make it impossible to respond to every person individually, but at least show that you are listening and provide responses to common questions.
  • Speed – It may sound obvious, but in the ‘social age’ speed really is key. Don’t wait hours to work out what to do next (hence the crisis strategy mentioned above) – the longer you leave it before acknowledging the situation and taking control, the more anger, misinformation and damage is being spread.

Social media communities love to get themselves worked up, and sometimes act in an almost gleeful way ‘outing’ brands or revelling in their misfortune. The earlier you can throw a bucket of cold water over the fire, the earlier it stops spreading.

We hope you never need to use these tips, but hopefully they will give you food for thought when considering your crisis management strategy and how social media monitoring can help.