There is only so much sand in the hourglass and if you haven’t already figured out what your social media game plan is during a company crisis, please read on immediately.
In today’s age of communications having a social media crisis engagement strategy is critical to preserving your brand. Now more than ever, the public expects an immediate response on social media when a crisis hits. Every minute that passes by without a response is a slippery slope to disaster. According to a recent study on Hubspot 72 per cent of people who complain on Twitter expect a response within an hour. Moreover, 60 per cent of respondents in the survey felt negatively about the brand if they did not receive timely responses.
Here are a few steps to consider on how best to develop a minimal defence on social media when dealing with a crisis:
1. Social Media Monitoring
There are many different software platforms out there but if you do not have a full-time person involved in this process or a person who fully understands how to monitor and what alerts to establish you are far better off to engage the services of a firm that can manage this process for you. The cost of such a monitoring service can run you anywhere from $500+ per month depending on the size of your company. Though software platforms typically cost within this range, the advantage of having an agency manage this for your company is that you don’t carry the additional costs of an employee. At that rate, it makes much more economic sense to outsource.
2. Understanding the difference between and issue and a full-blown crisis
Having a clear understanding of the issue is your first step. You should develop a cascade of responses and protocol to ensure that you don’t escalate an issue like an ice cream spill in a retail store to a crisis like a bank robbery in progress.
Make sure the Crisis Communications Team (CCT) has assigned a senior member to be responsible for any communication approvals for rapid response requirements. It is very important that you don’t delay in responding to customer enquiries even if it means providing placeholder responses noting that you’re aware of the issues and you will get back to them promptly. If you have been in these turbulent waters before you understand how quickly a poorly managed issue can soon escalate into a crisis.
3. First Responders
Know what the program is once your issue has been detected. Every great crisis management plan has protocols and messaging created in advance. Everyone should know who is on the team and what previously crafted responses are ready to go or need to be quickly modified. Your social media responders have to be empowered with baseline responses and a priority sequence on response levels and messaging. Make sure you have a consistent message that can be adapted across all social media channels.
4. Get the message up
Do not waste time pursuing the perfect detailed response. Even if you do not have all the required details, at a bare minimum, you need to inform your audience. Tell them you are aware of the situation and expect to be addressing it more formally within the hour or whatever immediate timeframe possible. This conveys your understanding of the urgency and immediacy of the situation. Also, be sure to display the highest amount of empathy possible. Being abrupt and unsympathetic will only add fuel to the fire.
Make sure your team has a standing ‘if in doubt’ response so that no enquiry goes unanswered. Furthermore, once the correct, informed responses to your issue have been created, make sure your social media manager is able to respond expeditiously, and in the event of uncertainty, that the appropriate level of senior management is available to sign off on the post. Ultimately you will need to post an official response to a situation on your website which will be used by the media, blog writers and others who will be reporting on your issue.
5. Pause your scheduled posts
Nothing can be worse than seeing a light-hearted acknowledgement of an unrelated event magically appear during the heat of a crisis. Disable your scheduled posts immediately. Your customer base needs to know that your priority focus is on the issue at hand and nothing else.
6. Create a crisis FAQ web page
Having a web page that addresses the most frequent questions around the issue gives you the ability to link to answers more efficiently. Details of the occurrence, contacts at the crisis site, lists of products impacted, geographic regions in question, etc., should all be aggregated in one place that can be easily referenced and shared throughout your social media posts.
Once the message is up, make sure you immediately engage with your audience responses. Make sure that you are consistent with your messaging and responding in a polite and caring manner. If you have positive responses, make sure and thank those supporters immediately. There will be individuals that cannot be pleased no matter what the effort and you need to understand this going in.
One tactic you should consider in your response is offering to take the conversation ‘offline’. While you may get a few people accepting this offer, at the very least, you are indicating to the broader audience at large your willingness to address heated and repeated comments directly. Remember, if you are satisfying the majority you have preserved your brand and supporting community.
8. Internal Employees
Your employees need to be made immediately alert to any social media crisis response campaign. It is critical that company employees do not randomly respond or engage in conversations on social. This protocol should be addressed in your employee handbook to protect the company/brand from rogue engagement. Make sure that all employees are aware of the situation when it breaks and to refer to the section in their handbook for references regarding proper behaviour. Also, make sure you keep your employees up to date on all developments and conclusions as they are reached.
9. Document Everything
Make sure you create a log of engagement. Tweets, status updates, blogs, comments on social media—everything needs to be saved in a central repository for future references. Make sure copies of all your emails are recorded. Also, review your campaign. Understand what worked, did not work and your social media activity as it relates to the time series of the event. Review web site traffic patterns and understand where visitors were engaged. Reviewing what happened will only make your campaign stronger the next time it happens.
10. Continue to monitor
One of the most common mistakes to crisis management is thinking it’s over and having it rear its ugly head again four days later. Keep a close eye and adjust your monitoring to key in on higher influencers. As well, make sure you are monitoring key date milestones. In other words, expect that someone will trot out “it was one year ago today…” these are common occurrences, and you need to be prepared.
These are but a few ideas that should help you better prepare. Until your next crisis…
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