How To Brace for Social Media Attacks

Jeremy Rosenberg
Jeremy Rosenberg

From Kenneth Cole’s tweet during Arab Spring to the recent YouTube video of a Golden Corral chef featuring meat behind a dumpster, the Web is littered with branded stories of woe. Social media has quickly become the place to wait and watch for a brand to make a mistake and come under fire. The news cycle has shrunk to 140 characters or a six second Vine video and when news anchors readily read tweets and comments from Facebook it can quickly fan the flames.

Spotting a crisis.

Some of the worst ways to find out about a crisis brewing are when a reporter calls for a comment, customer service phones are ringing off the hook or a member of your Board finds out before you.

By now, most brands have some sort of monitoring tool in place ranging from simple alerts to custom-built solutions that sweep the Internet looking for brand mentions, trends and influencers.

We always work towards finding the right scaled solution for our clients that will help them get the most pertinent information without data overload.

If you don’t have monitoring tool in place, or conduct regular searches, then you are certainly leaving your brand extremely vulnerable.

The snowball effect can happen in a matter of hours— instead of days—and if you aren’t listening for it, then you only have yourself to blame.

Plan of attack vs. plan for defense.

Short answer, yes, you should have both. Every situation is unique and needs to be evaluated carefully, but there will be an occasion when a seemingly defensive response can be more offensive than intended. As an example, despite case after case, brands will still try to silence detractors by simply deleting their comments on Facebook.

First of all, if you didn’t plan to have an “engaging” experience with your audience, negative or positive, then you should reevaluate your commitment to having a social presence.

Deleting comments may seem like a passive approach to addressing the problem, but can often incite more malice than was originally intended.

While you may think “don’t these people have anything better to do?” the simple answer is “no.”

Patience can be a virtue and you may see your brand advocates come out to defend you. Engaged communities often have a way to balance the negative with the positive.

Defending your brand publicly on a social platform, when done correctly, can be advantageous and lead to an increase in brand value.

In a Snowden-era of transparency, there is an expectation that when dirty laundry is aired, we all get to watch it get cleaned instead of always trying to sweep it under the rug.

That may not be our instinct when planning for a crisis, but it is a reality. And doing so can also bring brand advocates into the fold to step up and help lend their voice in your defense.

▶ Coordinated response or rapid response?

While many brands have adopted social media for the purposes of customer support, it is important to be able to identify the difference between support and crisis.

What may have started on social media may have since spiraled across blogs, TV news and print. A tweet may not be suitable to defuse the situation and a coordinated response involving both old and new media may be required.

Plan accordingly and be prepared to develop a thorough and comprehensive response across all your communications channels, not just digital.

Sometimes, employee engagement is exactly what’s needed at that time. Consider also including paid search or paid social posts to provide broader exposure.

Our crisis teams are well versed in social media and use it as a tool, not a strategy, allowing us to evaluate all options when determining the best path forward.

 Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Be mindful of getting a message out quickly. Social media is a fast moving medium and you need to be willing to jump in.

Have a process for alerting key team members with decision-making authority to enable a quick response. When approvals do need to go all the way to the top then ensure that someone is there to get the call.

▶ Long term effects.

You can learn a lot about your brand from a crisis that starts in social media; the public’s response, the media’s response, your vocal advocates and critics.

Use it as an opportunity to reset the expectation and level of engagement you have with your friends (and frenemies) in social media.

There will be an appropriate period of letting the dust settle, and the publicity that the crisis created, while unwelcomed, can have positive lasting effects when handled properly. PRN


Jeremy Rosenberg is head of digital at Allison+Partners. He can be reached at

This article appeared in the September 23 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.