Facebook Crisis Communication Lessons

The Facebook crisis communications lessons are many. The explosive interview on 60 Minutes and the testimony before Congress from whistleblower Frances Haugen confirms and reinforces the crisis communication lessons we discussed in the SituationHub Master Class that originally aired live on March 11, 2021. The Master Class is called The Social Media Conundrum. You’ll want to watch that program, in which we zeroed in on why Facebook’s algorithms are built against you in a crisis.  

Essentially, Haugen confirmed how the algorithms focus on your bad news and get your crisis event in front of more eyeballs on Facebook, while your good news perishes. It’s why we strongly urge our clients NOT to use Facebook as part of their crisis communications strategy. A key takeaway line from social media marketing expert Jay Baer was his observation that you should never build your house on rented property, i.e. Facebook is rented property. You are better to build your house on your website.

We’ve often defined a crisis as any event that can damage an organization’s reputation, revenue, and brand. This week, Facebook is the poster child of crisis communication lessons.

  • A whistleblower calls out Facebook’s algorithms on 60 Minutes
  • Facebook’s stock value immediately takes a nosedive
  • Social media lights up with #DeleteFacebook
  • The whistleblower calls out Facebook’s algorithms before Congress
  • Facebook crashes
  • Facebook is slow to issue a crisis communications statement about its own crisis

Facebook’s response and behavior are very similar to how big tobacco and big chemical behaved in the 1970s. The chemical industry has made huge strides in their efforts to reduce chemical emissions, as well as in their crisis response. Big tobacco has seen their clientele disappear as it attempts to morph into a vaping business.

The Facebook crisis communications lessons will continue. Winston Churchill once said,

Never waste a good crisis.”

To that extent, we believe that every crisis is a living classroom and worthy of your attention so you can learn from the success or failure of others in crisis. The lessons learned should serve as an incentive for you to engage in the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications, so you can have the tools to communicate effectively should you face a crisis. 

The Facebook crisis is a treasure trove of how not to handle a crisis. We suspect things will get much worse in the days and weeks ahead.

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”

More crisis communications articles:

15 Questions to Ask Before You Use Facebook for Crisis Communications

Can You Handle a Crisis When it Hits by Winging It?

Crisis Management Lessons from Hurricane Katrina vs. COVID19

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Facebook Crisis: 3 Expert-Inspired Crisis Communication Truths

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IECZuckerburg Silence

Crisis Communication Truth #1

You must communicate quickly in a crisis.

Crisis Communication Truth #2

If you fail to communicate quickly in a crisis, the narrative will be controlled on social media.

Crisis Communication Truth #3

Failure to control your communications, the narrative, and the truth, will result in damage to both your reputation and revenue.

Boom: Enter the Facebook – Cambridge Analytica crisis and the absence of a statement from Facebook CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg.
When I went to bed Tuesday night, March 20th, comedian Stephen Colbert was showing tumbleweeds rolling past an image of Zuckerberg, as the comedian noted the absence of a statement from Zuckerberg. At that time the stock value had dropped by $39 billion dollars.

By morning, Wednesday, March 21st, as I watched HLN, their graphic showed Zuckerberg with question marks all around him as they asked, “Where is Mark Zuckerberg?” By this time, stock value had dropped by $50 billion dollars.

It was Wednesday afternoon before Zuckerberg released a statement on Facebook, trying to explain what happened. This brings us to a bonus truth that we will call Crisis Communications Truth #4: When you attempt crisis communications via social media, the angry mobs, trolls, and haters will unleash on you in a way that is uncontrollable and accomplishes nothing, except allowing space for people to vent.


Ironically, I’m in the midst of preparing a presentation called, “Social Media is at the Crossroads.” It will be presented at the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) conference in Montreal, Canada on June 4, 2018 at 10:30 a.m. This case study personifies so many challenges that companies face in a crisis.

Facebook and Zuckerberg did what most companies do; they made no statement because they are gathering more information.

WRONG. It is always wrong to remain silent, because the void is filled with speculation by the media, pundits, social media, and comedians.

The RIGHT way to handle this begins with a simple statement that says your company is aware of the crisis, that it is being investigated, and that you hope to issue a statement shortly with more information. That’s it.

  • Acknowledge the crisis
  • Empathize with those who have been harmed
  • Apologize where possible
  • Promise to deliver more information within a reasonable amount of time

While the silence prevailed, the primary discussions were people asking, “Where is Mark Zuckerberg?” and “Are you getting off of Facebook?”zuckerberg2

Behold: A crisis of communications that damages reputation and revenue.

Behold: A crisis made worse because of the lack of proper crisis communications.

Behold: A crisis that cannot be controlled by releasing a statement on social media.