The Good, Bad and Ugly of Social Media Crisis Communications

social media icons


Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be a scary place during a crisis. One poorly written comment or response can be devastating, turning public opinion against the perceived offender. However, social media can also be a valuable crisis communications tool and can be utilized to get out your side of the story.

To improve our social media crisis communications, we must learn from the successes and failures of others. For this reason, I have listed below what I consider to be the good, the bad and the ugly of using social media during a crisis.

The Good: Britt McHenry’s Twitter apology

ESPN reporter Britt McHenry upset everyone when she was caught on camera being nasty to a female tow-truck employee, ridiculing the woman’s weight, education and appearance. Anyone who saw the video was left with a terrible impression of McHenry. At first, McHenry was silent about the issue (probably consulting her PR people). Then she issued the perfect response on Twitter: a short and succinct tweet in which she apologized for her “actions”. In her apology, she humanized the interaction but didn’t repeat the ugly details of the incident. She also didn’t engage with hostile posters on Twitter.

Britt McHenry Twitter apology

Britt McHenry apologizes on Twitter

The verdict: McHenry still has a job as a sports journalist for ESPN and most people will forget about the incident in a year.

View the Air Force Public Affairs Agency’s chart on how to respond to social media posts.

The Bad: Jian Ghomeshi’s Facebook rant

Jian Ghomeshi, the CBC Radio star who was accused of sexually assaulting multiple women, wrote a long Facebook post immediately following his firing from the CBC. I assume Ghomeshi took to Facebook to stay ahead of the story. However, in my opinion it appears that he wrote the post prior to seeking the counsel of an objective third-party perspective such as legal or crisis communications professionals. (Ghomeshi’s PR consultants quit following the Facebook post.) The post appears driven by emotion, which is not good as emotions can cloud rational thought.

The verdict: Bad. Remember to check your emotions, and seek neutral third-party advice when responding to a crisis.

The Ugly: Washington football team’s tone deaf tweet

The NFL’s Washington football team has been dealing with a long-simmering crisis as a result of its racist team name (the “Redskins”). This has resulted in condemnation from powerful American politicians and cultural figures, a trademark dispute, and the addition of the term as an “offensive” word in numerous dictionaries. Despite this, team ownership maintains that the name is not racist. It was this attitude that probably led to the team’s posting of a tone-deaf image on Twitter on Thanksgiving Day with the logo of a native and the words: “Happy Thanksgiving from the Redskins”. As could be expected, the team and comment were immediately ridiculed.

Racist tweet

Washington’s Thanksgiving tweet

The verdict: Ugly. Awareness is critically important in communications. In their tone-deaf Twitter post, the Washington football team failed to take into consideration the historic brutality experienced by Native Americans after the first Thanksgiving Day.

Do you have an example of using social media during a crisis situation? Please leave a comment. I’d like to hear your story.


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