Shitstorm - the right communication strategy

Three tips to avoid communication crises and shitstorms
16 December 2019
Shitstorm Symbolbild

Digitalization is impacting communication significantly and even a thoughtless remark can trigger a violent reaction on the internet which can be difficult to placate. For companies, this can mean a tarnished image or even a loss in turnover. Meike Richter, social media consultant, gives tips on how to deal wisely with communication crises

Shitstorm – hundreds of comments damage corporate image

“First, a distinction must be made between a wave of criticism with less than 100 comments and a real shitstorm that contains hundreds of comments and can damage a  company’s image,” Richter explained. The causes of a shitstorm vary and can range from a political or sexist statement to fake news and products or services, with which customers are unsatisfied. But no matter the trigger, companies should set up suitable communication strategies as a shitstorm can engulf firms or individuals through no fault of their own.


Meike Richter, Beraterin und Trainerin Social Media
© Christine Raczka
Meike Richter, social media, media change, journalism consultant

1) Precautions for a shitstorm

“Establish professional community management and set up a concrete strategy, goals and trained employees. Social media experts must be involved in each project and every new communication strategy from the very beginning. They know the community best and can assess the dynamics of rapidly developing debates,” Richter pointed out. Communication chains that guarantee 24/7 availability are crucial in emergencies. Users, who are particularly upset, expect feedback swiftly. 
“If a company remains silent, this can be interpreted as ‘they are ignoring me’ and the situation can escalate,” said Richter.

2) How to react when the shitstorm occurs and the criticism is justified

“Live the error culture. If apologies are requested, it must be clear that the mistake was real and is conceded honestly. It is important not to post a fake apology. So don’t write: “‘We are sorry, if someone feels offended’.”

3) How to react when criticism is unjustified

“Argue objectively and explain your motives. But you can also endure the situation in the knowledge that there are certain debates and target groups that cannot be won.” Protests by vegetarians against a meat producer are an example, said Richter. “No argument will turn fully-fledged vegetarians into fans of meat. The company should react once to show that the criticism has been heard and not ignored.” However, any more communication does not make sense. The conversation will be futile and the time and energy and time could be put to better use.