The best way to publicly respond to a business crisis

Modern business crises seem to be happening more often. In the past, a PR agency would deal with scandals and unhappy consumers before the issues spread. Today, anyone writing a scathing Facebook post or tweet could cost a business millions if that issue goes viral and gets blown out of proportion.

It’s as if everyone has a loudspeaker; we are able to broadcast our grievances with a business to a public space for tens of thousands of other consumers to see. Once mainstream media pick up on the issues, they can turn into business crises and can spell the end of a company – unless they know how to publicly respond and quell the situation properly.

Businesses around the world deal with hundreds of issues on social media daily. The aim is to deal with these issues before they start affecting your reputation or revenue – before becoming crises.

Think of issues and crises as a continuum, where the seriousness of the situation can range between 1 and 10. Your business (and social media team) needs to know how to respond to each situation in the right way to avoid further escalation.

The best way to handle small issues

Smaller issues, such as negative reviews or an upset customer, are easy to deal with on social media. However, some companies still get it wrong by completely ignoring such reviews and comments. The best solution is to reply to negative comments in a professional and sincere manner.

You might not change the mind of the person who is upset, but your response will be seen by other users looking at the thread. Your sincerity could work in your favour and improve your reputation with other potential consumers. Leave just one response to address the negative comment.

If they reply with more negative comments, offer to take the conversation offline to open the discussion. Send them an email or get in touch via phone, don’t continue the conversation on social media.

Small issues often come from an individual – one upset customer or someone with a bone to pick. Larger issues usually come about when more people jump on the bandwagon. You need to look at every scenario and determine how many people it will impact and what potential it has to escalate.

As mentioned before, if a small issue has the potential to tarnish your reputation or affect your income in any way, then it needs to be escalated to higher up the crisis continuum. Smaller issues will blow over with time but crises can have more severe consequences.

Create a crisis plan

To deal with crises, you need a pre-formulated plan that will guide your company through the torrid times. Working on a crisis plan while you’re in a crisis is now use, so have one ready just in case.

A crisis plan will save costs as your company will not need to hire an expensive PR firm to handle the negative influx of comments and bad press. The easiest way to develop a crisis plan is to think of possible scenarios and write down how you will best respond. It’s best to do this before a crisis when emotions are not getting in the way of your judgement.

Write down good responses, public press releases and messages that you can use for each scenario. Rehearse them and make sure your marketing and social media team are on the same page. Look at the crisis plan every three months and update it if necessary.

  1. Scenarios – Gather a team of employees and perhaps some customers or advisors to develop some possible scenarios. Try to get a range of viewpoints as this will allow you to cover many bases for possible scenarios. Once you’ve developed your scenarios, arrange them on a scale of 1 to 10 and determine what could cause each one to escalate to the next level.
  2. Prepared responses – Get your lead marketer or social media manager to create prepared responses that can be published as soon as a crisis begins. The messages can be generic (such as “we are aware of the issue and are working on a solution”) and details added when it comes time to post. Get your legal team to pre-approve the messages so that they can be posted immediately when the time comes. Have a range of outlets where you can communicate with the public, in case your social media channels or webpage get taken down.
  3. Rehearsal – This is a vital part of crisis planning, just like fire drills are an important safety standard. Quick and professional responses can often diffuse situations before they escalate. Identify the key people who will handle public responses and rehearse what they will say for each scenario. This way, when a crisis occurs, the spokesperson will respond according to the plan, not according to their emotions in the heat of the moment. When rehearsing the responses, include possible questions that the spokesperson may face from journalists or members of the public.
  4. Review and update – It is important to review and update the crisis plan once every quarter. Make sure the messages and responses are up-to-date and any new ideas or possible scenarios are added. Rehearsals can be done every three months to keep the social and marketing teams on the ball.

Employee-related issues

Sometimes internal problems become public ones, such as disgruntled employees or a company’s financial problems. The best way to deal with these problems depends on how transparent your business is. If you are open with your consumers and employees, then you can disclose certain issues on a public platform.

However, most companies aren’t that transparent. An employee-related issue should be dealt with both privately and publicly. The employee can be disciplined or retrenched in private, but your company can state the outcome of the issue if there is public interest in the matter.

Like unhappy consumers, a disgruntled employee’s social media rant could impact your business. This takes the issue from being strictly professional to more personal. This sort of issue should be dealt with internally, keeping in mind the employee’s freedom of speech.

Start by engaging the employee at work. Remind them that they still represent your business when they post about it on their personal page, especially if they have connections with other customers or clients.

An employee must understand that when they mix the professional and the personal on social media, they can misrepresent the business and negatively affect its reputation. This is especially true when an employee writes negative posts about other companies. You can ask employees to add notes to their profiles that their views do not represent the opinions of your business.

To wrap up, the best way to deal with a crisis is to be prepared. Everyone needs to know what steps to take and what responsibilities they have, like a well-rehearsed dance. Develop a crisis plan that outlines possible scenarios, lists responses to each one and keep practising these responses on a quarterly basis.

You never know when a crisis might strike, but knowing how to deal with it in a professional manner can save the reputation of your company.


Sorted Design Agency is a creative company that constantly looks for solutions to other people’s problems. These problems come mostly in the visual format, such as graphic design, logo and illustration, but we’re experts in brand development, website design, and digital SEO campaigns as well.


Based in Pretoria and Cape Town, Sorted has been in the content marketing industry since 2006. We assist your company with its corporate identity by communicating core values through content and articles written for your website, blog and news area. This content is supported by AdWords and social advertising, which facilitates wider reach and audience growth. Turn your website into a business tool.


Sorted also owns two other businesses; InkFish Print Studio – a printing company that handles a range of promotional materials for businesses and other services for individual customers, and Pampiri + Kie – a gifts and stationery store selling online and in-store. Both of these companies operate from Cape Town and Pretoria.


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