It can happen to anyone. One day you are happily providing tasty prepared meals to devoted consumers, and the next you are accused of serving up horsemeat, committing fraud and conspiracy against the public, and somehow being linked to convicted arms traffickers via the intermediaries that transport meat through the seedy underworld of the European food chain!

Who knew that a humble lasagne could cause so much trouble for so many goliaths of the food industry?

The answer is that someone should have. Because in today’s world of instant global exposure the vast majority of your digital crisis management needs to be in place before a crisis occurs, scenarios practised, scripts written, influencers on-side and communication channels identified.

It should be someone’s role to ensure that this has been done. In the wake of the horsemeat crisis, how many of the businesses involved in it do you feel had an effective strategy to call upon?

In the days before social media it could take hours or even days for a story to break. Today it can take seconds to go viral, so it’s prepare or perish.

Here is our five step guide to digital crisis management:

1.   Listen 

Where there are early warning signals of an impending crisis you want to know about them. To remain constantly aware of what people are saying about your brand, your business and your products and services your organisation should be producing and reviewing social media monitoring reports on a regular basis.

This should be weekly, but moving up to hourly during a crisis because timely and accurate knowledge is essential for rapid resolution. 

2.  Nurture

A swift and decisive response is often required when it comes to successful digital crisis management and for this to be achieved you will often need the support of key influencers in your market.

Know where they can be found, profile them to understand who they are and what they like, how they will speak of you and how much support you can rely on from them.

Nurture your relationships with them constantly because you never know when you will have to call upon their help, their voice and their influence in your market. 

3. Plan

You backup your system files, not because you expect them to crash but to avoid catastrophe if they do, and in the same way you should plan every detail of your digital crisis management.

This means fully trained staff whose responsibility it is to switch over to their crisis-management role and monitor, engage, respond and protect the reputation of your organisation; a step-by-step crisis management manual for them to refer to; emergency contact numbers and email addresses for key senior staff to be immediately made aware of an impending crisis; and keyword analysis to determine potential phrases which you will need to dominate should a crisis occur.

Your response times, and the actions you take, may mean the difference between a crisis averted and a full-blown horsemeat scandal. 

4. Prepare

The bigger your business gets the more of a target it can become – disgruntled customers or employees, those who dislike your products, services or ideologies, and those who simply are spoiling for a fight.

To defend against this you need to cast a wide net over the social mediasphere, gaining strong footholds in every relevant platform and medium. Not only will this mean that you have a good foundation, but that more people will directly hear from you and be warmer to your reaction in response to a crisis. 

5. React 

Respond quickly: let all key stakeholders know instantly that there is an issue, engage with key influencers to gather more crisis knowledge and to be the voice of reason in their circles, monitor all social channels and protect your brand by buying up all relevant keywords for SEO and PPC to prevent others using them and so you can utilise them for maximum crisis management message impact. 

Effective online reputation management and crisis response requires diligence and up-to-the-minute knowledge of social media trends and technologies. It is frightening how few organisations have a social crisis management action plan in place, but by following these few steps you will better protect your reputation, your brand and your business.

So don't delay, put your crisis management action plan in place today.

Maz Nadjm

Published 4 March, 2013 by Maz Nadjm

Maz Nadjm is a founder of SoAmpli and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (6)

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Also - check your scheduled posts in case of unintentional inappropriate tweets. *cough* Tesco *cough*

over 5 years ago

Mat Morrison

Mat Morrison, Director at Mediaczar Ltd

Maz -- how does this differ materially from "traditional" crisis management?

Also - how might one go about buying SEO keywords?

over 5 years ago

Tamara Littleton

Tamara Littleton, CEO at The Social Element

Thanks Maz. Preparation really is key. We talk about ‘banking goodwill’ to see you through a crisis (if you’ve got some goodwill banked, the ‘crowd’ will sometimes fight your battles for you on social media).

I’d add ‘rehearse’ to that list. There’s nothing like practising dealing with an angry mob to refine your crisis skills. Most organisations will have a crisis plan in place that covers the basics. But it just takes a couple of thoughtless comments on Twitter – easy enough to do under pressure - to turn the crowd against you. Define who owns which channel, and make sure you don’t have just one person managing the channel – when they start feeling the pressure, they’ll need to take a break to avoid mishaps. Quick sign-off is critical. You have about 15 minutes to respond on social media, so if you’re waiting two days for legal to sign off a Facebook post, you’re in trouble. And – of course - practice responding on social channels. We’ve built a social media simulator to help brands do this and it’s really the only way to know if your strategy is going to work.

over 5 years ago


Colin Kabiswa

Great article Maz. As a marketer some of what you have written is a given. My question though is how do you overcome the speed at which a crisis has to be dealt with via Social Media if everything has to first go past the Legal team at the company. Most Legal teams work at a different speed when it comes to outward communication in time of a crisis.


over 5 years ago

Nick Sharples

Nick Sharples, CEO at Personal

Thanks Maz - great article. In response to Mat's question there is an ongoing debate in the Comms community as to whether there is such a thing as a 'digital' or a 'social media' crisis, or whether there are just crises. I tend to go with the latter perspective. Having managed both traditional and digital crises over the years it is clear that the principles of crisis management remain the same. The main differences are that a crisis that takes place in the digital/social space can spiral out of control that much faster, and as Tamara makes clear there is now an expectation on socially engaged companies that they should respond to major crises in Twitter Time (now around 15 minutes).

These two differences place a much greater emphasis on the need for companies to plan and rehearse their crisis response procedures well in advance, and for the nominated crisis manager to have secured Delegation of Authority from the Board to respond first and seek permission later. Engaging your friendly lawyer in all aspects of the preparations and crisis rehearsals should negate the most likely block to your ability to manage a crisis without undue delay. It's a huge topic but there is a useful primer on social media crisis at

over 5 years ago

Nick Sharples

Nick Sharples, CEO at Personal

Hi Mat,

Buying keywords is a great way to get your company's message at the top of any Google search about the crisis.

By buying keywords which people will naturally use when searching about the crisis it allows you to direct inquiries to your own dark site. If your company has a well established social presence then you can of course reach out to those stakeholders through your normal channels as Alex Pearmain did during the 02 outage last year .

On the other hand there may be wider public interests in the crisis beyond your normal follower community or you may be managing social on a shoestring and do not have the resources to dedicate to feeding each one of your channels during a crisis. In this case it makes sense to focus on a single website on which you can collate all your messaging, updates on crisis resolution, social streams and videos, etc. Driving interested parties to that website can be done through buying relevant adwords and ensuring that the ad you serve in response is written carefully to drive clickthroughs to your site.

Most medium sized companies will already have a member of the digital or social team buying adwords as part of the normal digital marketing activity, so it makes sense to have this person's out of hours contact details built into the Crisis Management Plan's contacts list. Worst case, you can do it with a Gmail account and a personal credit card - but I found claiming the money back on expenses was more difficult than managing the crisis.

over 5 years ago

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