Organisations can no longer rely solely on traditional crisis management approaches. Any response to an incident must now also be supported with a social media strategy.
Social media is both a blessing and a curse during a crisis scenario. On the one hand, it’s a fantastic tool for communicating with the public quickly, but on the other, it’s made it easier than ever for a crisis to escalate, false information to permeate, and things to move beyond your control.
Your handling of a crisis internally is one thing, but how your organisation publicly responds to an incident will define your chances of a successful resolution that protects your business's reputation.
If you want to ensure the best outcome for your organisation, be sure to follow these 8 key steps.
Before the Crisis
1. Assemble the Team
We highly recommend including a communications expert within this process. After all, crafting and transmitting the right messages on social media is an essential part of modern-age crisis management.
2. Clarify Your Key Messages
Take the time to consider your key messaging. How do you wish to present your organisation on social media during an incident? To give you some ideas, start by outlining your organisation’s core values. All social media posts should align with these principles.
For example, if your organisation prides itself on being transparent, your social posts should focus on sharing all relevant facts concerning the crisis.
Nailing down your key messages will mean your response team are all on the same page, ensuring consistent communications with the public when a crisis strikes.
3. Set Communication Guidelines
Once you understand your key messaging, set up communications guidelines for your team to follow during an emergency. These should include:
- How you communicate with stakeholders and customers
- How you handle media enquiries
- How you communicate on each social network, with regards to format and audience
- How the rest of your employees should behave on social media during a crisis
We also recommend listing the 10 risks you’re most likely to encounter and prepare some rough draft social posts for each. This will save you valuable time and give you the opportunity to craft some really effective responses.
During the Crisis
1. Pause Any Scheduled Posts
The last thing you want to happen during a crisis is for a lighthearted, pre-scheduled post to appear on twitter which undermines the severity of the incident you’re facing.
As soon as a crisis hits, before any other social media related task, pause all scheduled posts.
2. Own the Crisis
Publicly acknowledge the crisis on all social media accounts as quickly as possible. This will reassure the public and your stakeholders that you’re aware of the crisis and working to resolve it. The trick is not to be so hasty that you forget to be thoughtful. If you’ve taken the time to plan for these scenarios, this shouldn’t be an issue.
If you move fast you can own the conversation and shape it – before commentators shape it for you. This will also help to eliminate the spread of false information, enabling you to remain as the only authoritative source.
3. Engage the Public
Once you’ve publicly acknowledged the crisis, you can begin to tactfully engage with the public on your social accounts.
In the heat of a crisis, it’s common for social media users to lose their cool and post emotionally-charged comments and opinions. Remain calm, address people's concerns, and reassure them that the situation is under control.
4. Remain Silent When Necessary
Not every tweet or post is worthy of a response. Unlike in the real world, social media users can hide behind anonymity and fake profiles to cause grief and ‘troll’ other users.
If you receive negative comments from someone online, check out their profile and make a judgement call on whether they’re worth replying to. If you have reason to suspect they’re just looking to cause hassle, it’s best to just ignore them. Never feed a troll.
5. Post a Long-Form Response on Your Website
Taking the conversation away from social media and onto your website is a smart move once all the facts of the situation are known.
A long-form written response on your homepage, in the format of an open letter, gives your company the opportunity to:
- Set facts straight
- Apologise, if necessary
- Display accountability, transparency, and authenticity
- Explain what steps are being or were taken to resolve the crisis
This will also buy you time as you can direct the public and news media to this page instead of having to reply to them individually. People will appreciate being able to hear your company's side of the story in one place.
As we've said many times before, preparation is half the battle when it comes to crisis management, and the same is true for your social media strategy. Plan what you want to say, the way you want to say it, and who you want to say it to as much as possible pre-crisis. This will put in a strong position to handle the situation effectively and achieve a successful outcome for your organisation.