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By Justine Hong

Crisis Management: How to Rise Above the Social Media Trolls and Tribulations

While social media can be used to share positivity, it can also inspire crude quips, ruffled feathers and rude comments. And in a world where social media never sleeps, companies have to respond quickly to their in-the-moment mistakes because their brand reputation is on the line, in real time. That’s why a crisis management plan is key. Because while many disasters can’t be predicted (though some serious thought should be given to every single thing you post, even when live tweeting!), how a brand responds can make or break them.

Let’s look at a few examples of social snags to see how the brand’s whose actions inspired outrage either righted their ships or caused a full on capsize…

Rape culture

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Background: Forever 21 regularly releases graphic t-shirts with phrases, quotes or captions. The fashion retailer presented a new men’s t-shirt with the sentence, “Don’t say maybe if you want to say no.” The company realized customers viewed its implications as pro-rape after users reacted on social media.

Action: The company quickly went into crisis management mode. They released an apologetic statement stating the company took immediate action to remove the shirt from the site.

“Forever 21 strives to exemplify the highest ethical standards and takes feedback and product concerns very seriously. With regards to the t-shirt in question, upon receiving feedback from our customers, we took immediate action to have it removed from our website. We sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by the product.”

Verdict: Although the company’s response was timely, rape remains a HUGE issue especially on college campuses. Presumably, several executives potentially approved the shirt since it was produced and that major mistake has inspired vitriol towards the company that probably won’t disappear any time soon. Especially because the news reached nearly 100 media outlets.  Too little too late, maybe. 

An athletic Valentine’s Day

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Background: Adidas captured two female sneakers facing each other stating, “The love you take is equal to the love you make” and shared the photo on Instagram. With more than 7.3 million followers, the account was flooded with likes and comments. While some positive, users also scolded stating, “Shame on you adidas !!!! I’m going to NIke now” and “WTF ADIDAS???? THIS DAY IS FOR BOY AND GIRL, WHEN THEY ARE COUPLE. NOT FOR LESBIANS, STUPID ADIDAS.”

Action: The company immediately responded to the comments. One reply was with two emojis: (hand waving emoji, lips kiss emoji) as if to reference “Bye, Felicia.” Another reply to a user said, “No, this day is for LOVE. Happy Valentine’s Day (kiss lips emoji).”
Verdict: Timeliness matters and Adidas handled the negative remarks swiftly. The response made headline news and amassed support for the company.

The grim lipstick

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Background: In honor of 2016 New York Fashion Week, Mac Cosmetics shared a backstage photo of an African American woman’s lips painted in its “Matte Royal” lip color. Trolls left racist comments such as “Ni**a lips,” “Them fish lips,” “thought this was Jay Z” and more.

Action: Mac took nearly 24 hours to publicly respond including this journalist’s inquiry on Twitter. In the days that followed, the company published the its slogan on Instagram and completely vanquished the controversy stating, “We do not tolerate any abusive comments in our community.” The company also deleted negative comments on the post.

Verdict: Mac could have responded in a more timely manner, but they did eventually silence the noise and take a stand that was true to their brand. 

My culture is not a trend

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Background: After several celebrities styled outfits that included dashikis, a colorful garment widely worn in Africa, Elle Canada (which tweets to more than 69,000 followers) shared a recent article with the headline: “Is the dashiki the new kaftan?” Users immediately replied back calling out the brand for its cultural appropriation and ignorance.

Action: Elle Canada crisis management response was to delete the tweet and remove the article from the site. The outlet did not issue an apology, but instead ignored the situation.

Verdict: While Elle Canada corrected its error, it also earned an overwhelming number of angry tweets and several media outlets cited the incident. The editors should have addressed the problem head on instead of attempting to cover their tracks.

Kardashian hair style

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Background: Kim Kardashian wore her hair in tight braids. Then, MTV UK labelled the hairstyle “boxer braids.” People immediately exploded at the company and its cultural appropriation since the braid hairstyle Kim K was wearing is commonly known as cornrows.  

Action: The profile deleted the tweet, but kept the article posted. It did not reply back to any users.

Verdict: The public in general understands that what the outlet said was a mistake. MTV UK needed to cite its error and update the article to rightfully showcase the company wasn’t creating racist remarks.

So how should brands handle negativity and missteps?

Are you receiving hatred on your social channels? Struggling to keep your company identity positive? Here are a few tips for preparing for and handling internet trolls:

Crisis Management Tip #1: Don’t let them get the best of you

In the wise words of Taylor Swift, “Shake it off.” The Internet seems to inspiring the sharing of negativity over positivity. Try and define the problem and create a solution whether that means providing feedback, justification or an apology

Crisis Management Tip #2: Correct mistakes

Perhaps you published content by accident? Since it’s already gained views and impressions, fix your error.  Take a look at Burger King’s actions after someone hacked the company’s Twitter account and how the fast-food eatery benefitted from the breach in security.

Crisis Management Tip #3: Prepare before publishing

Don’t trust the management of your social media accounts to just one set of eyes, enlist several. Establish a team to review posts before they become public. You can use programs like Viralheat and HootSuite to organize your team. 

Crisis Management Tip #4: Use humor tactfully

Depending on the situation, using a comicreply (similar to the action Adidas took) can be effective. Sometimes humor can simultaneously acknowledge and diffuse a dispute. But proceed with caution. You don’t want to make light of a situation that is serious to your audience. 

Crisis Management Tip #5: Create a monitoring system

You want more than one set of eyes looking at your posts before they go live, but you also need multiple sets of eyes surveying the scene. “Social media failure today is often not a PR or a marketing problem, but an organizational problem.“ – Implement a team to oversee not just the channel, but also news and trends that could affect your company. Any rising controversy or negative sentiment related to your company should be carefully monitored.  That way, your responses can benefit from context and you’ll have more time to prepare for issues. 


Worried you’re not prepared for potential catastrophe? We can help create an effective crisis management plan that will help you stay on the up and up with your customers.


By Justine Hong