Social media is being touted as a mar­ket­ing nir­vana, but it can also be your worst night­mare. The fear of a PR deba­cle start­ing a brush fire on the Inter­net con­sumes many execs in both mar­ket­ing and PR. Why? Because social media is a pow­er­ful tool, and with all the shar­ing that takes place it’s incred­i­bly easy for neg­a­tive words to make the rounds instantly. Think of social media as a mas­sive ampli­fier — you can no longer ignore events, take days to approve a response, or pre­tend it doesn’t exist. Social is real, and even the most triv­ial cus­tomer com­plaint can turn into a global boy­cott if not han­dled correctly.

Here are four ways that will help you nav­i­gate any cri­sis on social media:

1. Be Prepared

Build a social media plan. Think of the worst pos­si­ble sce­nario your brand can face and then amplify it by how­ever many fans your brand page has. Yeah, we’re seri­ous. Obvi­ously, you can’t pre­dict events or sit­u­a­tions, but have peo­ple in place and a plan of action (eg, who to con­tact first, who has the final approval, who is the backup, who will be respon­si­ble for post­ing, mod­er­at­ing, com­mu­ni­cat­ing, etc.) Once this plan is in place, make sure every­one on the social media, PR and mar­ket­ing teams are up to speed.

2. Be Timely

Social media moves very quickly. It can snow­ball even quicker, and some fans will jump on a band­wagon before they even read through the issue at hand. As soon as you are aware of the deba­cle, refer to your plan imme­di­ately. Get a state­ment approved and post it as fast as pos­si­ble in an effort to address con­cerns as soon as they arise.

3. Be Transparent

Hon­esty is crit­i­cal when it comes to com­mu­ni­cat­ing with fans that are upset. Feed­ing them “canned” or insin­cere responses will not go over well. If you do not have a direct response to the issue at hand, it’s okay to let the fans know you’re lis­ten­ing and that you’re work­ing on get­ting them answers.

4. Be Persistent

It may take more than one update to calm the trou­bled social media waters. Don’t give up, and don’t try and resume pub­lish­ing your pre-scheduled con­tent. It may take a cou­ple days before all of the fans are sat­is­fied (or even read) your response to the sit­u­a­tion. Respond to users indi­vid­u­ally that have directly inter­acted with you. Con­tinue post­ing your state­ment and any devel­op­ments or other actions you may have taken to address the issue at hand. Of course, at some point, “the show must go on,” but wait until there is absolutely noth­ing else you can say or do.

Unlike tra­di­tional cri­sis man­age­ment, which typ­i­cally requires many pro­ce­dures and approval processes, in social media you have to be ready to cre­ate con­tent imme­di­ately. Don’t let this scare you, just be pre­pared.