If your company is doing social media marketing (and it really should be), then chances are, at some point there will be some crisis management needed. For most companies it will be a minor blip on the social media radar such as a product recall, or negative reviews; but for a minority it could be something big such as the public relations crises that hit companies such as Pepsi, Nivea, and United Airlines in April 2017.
Social media can fuel the flames of crisis, leading some CEOs to order radio silence when crisis hits. This is entirely the wrong approach. Ignoring the problem certainly does not make it go away and when a previously active social channel goes dead, it is next to impossible to successfully revive. In fact, the best way to deal with a social media crisis is by using social media – and following some fairly simple steps.
First off, make sure it’s actually a crisis situation and not one person blowing something out of proportion. According to Convince and Convert, there are telltale signs of a social media crisis including: Informational asymmetry (where the brand knows no more about what is happening than the public), change from normal patterns of mentions (whether it’s a skyrocketing number of mentions or the types of mentions – anything out of the ordinary could be a crisis), and a potential for material or reputational harm to the company (something that will stick with people or that could lead to financial losses). If none of these conditions are met, it’s probably not a crisis. One or more of them and your crisis management team should be leaping into action.
Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Crisis Management
While every situation is unique, there is a basic formula for how to best respond to a crisis, and there are some things that need to be in place before a crisis arises.
Before The Crisis:
- Have a team set up for this eventuality. Make sure your team list is updated after any restructuring or to reflect leaves.
- Set up a clear chain of command. Know who will be in charge of the response and who will be approving messaging. Make sure everyone on the response team knows who these people are.
- Always be listening. The only way you will be able to tell if you are getting more mentions or different types of mentions compared to normal is if you have a baseline. Have Google Alerts set up for relevant hashtags and phrases and use a social monitoring program such as Hootsuite, BuzzSumo, or Sprout Social, to track social mentions.
When a Crisis Hits:
- Respond immediately. Proactively acknowledge the issue across all of your social media platforms. Have your company statement on the issue on your website and direct your fans and followers there for more information. Don’t forget to update this page as things change. Having a consistent page where people can go for information will make life easier for everyone involved.
- Turn off ALL scheduled posts on every platform. At best they’re going to be seen as attempts to distract, at worse they can provide more fodder for critics and cause additional crises.
Set up additional Google Alerts to track the crisis. Make sure you know what the problem is in order to respond effectively.
- Respond where the crisis is. If your Facebook page is being flooded with negative comments, responding on snapchat isn’t going to do much good. While you need to proactively acknowledge on all platforms, spend your resources helping calm the crisis where it is occurring.
- Apologize authentically. When you are apologizing for a corporation or brand, it can come off as fake or insincere. Don’t make excuses in your apology – just say you’re sorry and that you’re working to rectify the situation. It will go over far better with your fans if you are sincere in your contrition.
- Control the situation. Okay you can’t control the situation completely, but you can steer your customers to complain where you can set the tone of the conversation. Twitter is one popular choice as the character restrictions can reduce the amount of vitriol directed at the brand. The most popular choice, however, is Facebook. On a Facebook page, a brand can choose to hide or delete the truly offensive comments and quickly reply to the rest.
- Know when to either take the discussion private or offline. Don’t get into an argument with anyone. Continue the conversation out of public view either through direct messages or email / phone calls.
- Don’t feed the trolls. It seems overly simplistic but a crisis will attract a certain percentage of people who just want to stir things up. Not every comment requires a response.
After the Crisis:
- Take a deep breath and congratulate your team. Make sure they feel appreciated for the extra work they put in during the crisis.
- Debrief with everyone concerned and make actionable plans for what needs to be done differently in future.
- Turn your scheduled posts back on a day or two after you’re sure the crisis has subsided.
By having a plan and knowing what to do during a social media crisis, your company or brand can weather the storm and come out stronger afterwards. It doesn’t matter how big or small your organization is – there should always be a crisis action plan in place for all of your social media channels.