15 Social media crisis examples, and their brand impact

    In today's digital age, social media has become a vital tool for brands to connect with their audience. However, this powerful platform can quickly transform into a battleground when a crisis strikes. A social media crisis has the potential to escalate within minutes, wreaking havoc on your brand's reputation and bottom line. That's why understanding and preparing for such crises have become critical.

    The value of hindsight

    One of the greatest advantages of hindsight is the valuable lessons it offers. You can learn how to manage future crises by navigating through the social media crises of the past. Learning from these experiences provides you with a lens through which to view, dissect, and adapt our crisis management approaches.

    Defining a social media crisis

    Identifying a crisis

    It's important to recognize that a social media crisis goes beyond a few negative comments or a bad review. It’s an unexpected event that triggers widespread negative public reaction and poses a significant threat to a brand's image. Examples can range from offensive tweets sent from a company's account to data breaches compromising customer information.

    Social media crisis examples - Using sentiment analysis to detect a crisisIf the sentiment around your brand mentions suddenly drops, you likely have a crisis on your hands. Talkwalker Consumer Intelligence Platform.

    But not every issue is a crisis. Here are some examples of what is not a social media crisis and how to respond appropriately.

    The domino effect

    A social media crisis can have both immediate and long-term consequences. In the short term, it can lead to a decline in sales, stock values, and customer trust. The repercussions can be far-reaching, causing long-term damage to your brand's reputation. And possibly resulting in a loss of market share.

    By understanding the parameters and impact of a social media crisis, you can proactively prepare to mitigate the damage. Armed with the knowledge gained from these examples, you can develop effective crisis management strategies. This will help safeguard your reputation in the face of adversity.

    Here are our 15 social media crisis management examples…

    Social media crisis example 1: United Airlines

    The incident and escalation

    In 2017, United Airlines faced a PR disaster. A video of a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight went viral. This video sparked widespread outrage, and the issue quickly escalated into a full-blown crisis.

    Lessons Learned

    Consumers criticized United’s initial response for its lack of empathy and understanding of the situation. The lesson here is the importance of an immediate, empathetic, and transparent response that aligns with public sentiment.

    Social media crisis example 2: H&M

    The incident and escalation

    In 2018, clothing retailer H&M released a misjudged ad. It featured a young African-American boy wearing a hoodie with the text "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle." Shoppers perceived the ad as racially insensitive, leading to widespread criticism and calls for a boycott.

    Crisis management strategy

    H&M quickly pulled the ad and released a statement of apology. They also pledged to review their marketing practices to prevent such incidents in the future. While the response was generally well-received, the damage to the brand’s reputation took time to heal.

    Social media crisis example 3: Pepsi

    The incident and escalation

    In 2017, a Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement. The ad showed Jenner handing a Pepsi to a police officer during a protest, seemingly solving the tension with a soda. The ad sparked immediate backlash for its tone-deaf messaging.

    Crisis management strategy

    Pepsi promptly pulled the ad and issued an apology, acknowledging that they had missed the mark. However, the ad has since served as a case study in how not to capitalize on social issues.

    Social media crisis example 4: Dove

    The incident and escalation

    Dove faced criticism in 2017 for a Facebook ad. It showed a black woman turning into a white woman after using Dove body lotion. People called out the ad for being racially insensitive.

    Crisis management strategy

    Dove immediately took down the ad and issued an apology. The brand acknowledged that they had "missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully,"

    Social media crisis example 5: Boeing

    The incident and escalation

    Boeing faced a crisis in 2019 after two fatal crashes involving their 737 Max airplanes. The crisis quickly amplified on social media accounts, with hashtags like #Boeing737Max and #BoycottBoeing trending.

    Crisis management strategy

    Consumers criticized Boeing's response for being slow and not empathetic enough. The crisis led to congressional investigations, and Boeing has since worked on rebuilding trust. Done so through transparency and consistent updates on the improvements made to their aircraft.

    Social media crisis example 6: KFC

    The incident and escalation

    In 2018, the popular food chain KFC ran out of chicken because of delivery disruptions. This led to temporary store closures, with consumers complaining online about missing out on their favorite treat.

    Crisis management strategy

    In response, KFC shared an ad with a clever play on their name - FCK. It provided a transparent and genuine explanation of the situation. The brand guided consumers to a website page showing which stores were open and had supplies. They also shared posts on social media channels.

    Social media crisis example 7: Blizzard Entertainment

    The incident and escalation

    Blizzard, a popular gaming company, sparked controversy when it banned a professional esports player in 2019. The reason? For voicing support for the Hong Kong protests. The action led to widespread calls for boycotts and the hashtag #BoycottBlizzard.

    Crisis management strategy

    Blizzard later reduced the ban and returned the player's prize money but didn't fully reverse the decision. While this eased some of the backlash, it led to questions about the company's ethical stance.

    Social media crisis example 8: Gillette

    The incident and escalation

    In 2019, Gillette released an ad campaign targeting toxic masculinity, but it sparked controversy for its approach. Some social media users accused the brand of stereotyping men and even launched a #BoycottGillette hashtag.

    Crisis management strategy

    Gillette stood by its message but acknowledged the public's concerns. The company aimed for constructive dialogue on the topic, but it faced mixed reviews. While some praised the ad's intent, others questioned Gillette's genuine commitment to social issues.

    Social media crisis example 9: Starbucks

    The incident and escalation

    In 2018, Police arrested two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend. The incident, captured on video, led to accusations of racial profiling, igniting a social media storm.

    Crisis management strategy

    Starbucks acted quickly by issuing a public apology and announcing racial bias training for all its employees. The CEO also met with the men to apologize personally. The brand's prompt and comprehensive action helped mitigate some of the damage.

    Social media crisis example 10: Peloton

    The incident and escalation

    In 2019, critics disliked Peloton’s holiday ad for being sexist and perpetuating body-shaming culture. Social media was quick to condemn the ad, creating a PR crisis for the brand.

    Crisis management strategy

    Peloton initially defended the ad but later acknowledged the criticism. Although the brand's stock took a hit, they have since endeavored to incorporate the feedback into future campaigns.

    Social media crisis example 11: Lululemon

    The incident and escalation

    In 2013, Lululemon faced backlash for selling yoga pants that were overly sheer. The issue escalated when the CEO appeared to blame the problem on the body types of certain customers.

    Crisis management strategy

    Lululemon recalled the problematic pants from store shelves and eventually, the CEO stepped down. The brand issued an apology and committed to improving quality checks. But not before facing a decline in customer trust and stock value.

    Social media crisis example 12: Snapchat

    The incident and escalation

    In 2018, Snapchat released an ad that seemed to make light of domestic violence, featuring Rihanna and Chris Brown. The ad received immediate backlash for its insensitivity towards a serious issue.

    Crisis management strategy

    Snapchat removed the ad from social media platforms and apologized. It stated the ad should never have been published. However, the episode still resulted in bad press and a brief stock drop, affecting Snapchat’s market value temporarily.

    Social media crisis example 13: Papa John's

    The incident and escalation

    In 2018, the founder of Papa John's used a racial slur during a conference call. The news spread rapidly, leading to widespread condemnation and calls for boycotts on social media.

    Crisis management strategy

    Papa John's founder stepped down. The company also launched a campaign to show they were taking steps to ensure a more inclusive environment. They also requested a third-party audit of the company's practices.

    Social media crisis example 14: Tesla

    The incident and escalation

    In 2018, Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, faced severe backlash for tweeting that he was considering taking Tesla private. He said he had “funding secured,” which was not the case. The tweet caused Tesla’s stock price to soar and then crash, drawing scrutiny from regulators.

    Crisis management strategy

    Musk later clarified that he was in talks with potential investors but had not finalized a deal. He faced SEC action, ultimately settling without admitting guilt. Tesla also pledged to oversee Musk’s future communications related to the company on social media.

    Social media crisis example 15: Equifax

    The incident and escalation

    In 2017, Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency, revealed a massive data breach affecting 143 million Americans. When Equifax's Twitter account accidentally directed victims to a phishing website, it heightened the crisis.

    Crisis management strategy

    Equifax's response was to offer free credit monitoring, but the situation still caused a significant loss of trust for the brand.

    Common pitfalls: what not to do in a crisis

    Typical Mistakes

    Common mistakes include delayed responses, poor crisis communications, and a lack of empathy. These errors can amplify the crisis and cause further damage to the brand’s image.

    Navigating the Storm

    To avoid these pitfalls, marketing teams should

    • Have a crisis management plan in place,
    • Listen and respond to their audience genuinely,
    • Keep communication lines open and transparent.

    Strategies for effective social media crisis management

    Proactive and reactive measures

    A combination of proactive and reactive strategies can be the best defense against a social media crisis. Proactive measures include constant social media monitoring and training staff on how to handle a crisis. Reactive measures involve having a response plan ready to activate when a crisis hits.

    Actionable steps

    Based on our analysis, actionable steps include:

    • Monitoring brand mentions and sentiment analysis in real time,
    • Having a social media crisis management plan,
    • Running crisis simulations,
    • Regularly update the crisis plan based on experience and consumer/industry changes,
    • Engage your social media team and wider staff in diversity training to promote more representative communication.

    PR-crisis-plan4 simple stages to managing a crisis. Or learn how to do it all in 9 steps in our social media crisis management guide.

    The value of preparedness and learning

    Key takeaways

    Understanding how a crisis occurs can provide valuable lessons on what actions you can take and what to avoid. Real-world examples serve as a roadmap for navigating the complexities of a social media crisis.

    Final thoughts

    The insights gained from past crises are powerful tools that can strengthen your brand's crisis management strategy. When navigating the ever-changing landscape of social media, equip yourself with crisis knowledge and be prepared. Remember, a well-prepared brand is a resilient brand.

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