Social anxiety: How to manage digital channels in a crisis

In 2017 it is estimated that 2.2 billion people will own a smartphone and, as the world becomes more social, user-generated content will continue to drive the pace of crisis communications.

The first rule of crisis comms is be prepared, argues Jen Horsman
The first rule of crisis comms is be prepared, argues Jen Horsman
The worrying thing is that companies are still lagging behind consumer expectations and the window of opportunity for a company to define its story during a crisis is shrinking. 

The solution is quite simple: be prepared. 

Social media has the power to expose and demolish your brand reputation in a matter of clicks; spending time to develop a digital communications strategy in a crisis is essential to protect your reputation. 

Here are a few steps your company can take to ease its social anxiety and help manage digital channels in a crisis:

BEFORE

Check whether your Crisis Communications Plan has considered key digital elements at each stage. 
Does it place the correct emphasis on:

Monitoring, escalation and response procedures
Mapping key online stakeholders/influencers
Ownership of social-media channels
Resource requirements
Training for the social-media team
Factoring social-media insights into risk assessments
Optimising IT systems to enable collaboration and the sharing of information at the required pace

DURING

While your focus will be on managing the crisis, the world still expects a lot from you – and it won’t be shy in telling you so.

Ramp up monitoring procedures. Know what is being said about your company, by who and where
Ensure messaging across channels is consistent and considers the three 'C's of crisis communication: concern, commitment and control
Adapt messaging for each social-media platform
Continue to engage and create dialogue with stakeholders – if you don’t tell your story, speculation and misinformation will fill the void
Act fast. Respond to social-media queries if information can be released publically. Or, if you’re receiving a high volume of enquiries, direct people to a relevant FAQ page/holding statement 
Establish strong internal communications, across functions and geographies. Ensure the communications team receives updated information from the Crisis Management Team meetings as soon as it is available

AFTER 

It’s not over yet! There is still work to be done once a crisis has been resolved.

Update messaging on digital channels. Letting people know you have fixed the issue is fundamental in helping restore brand reputation
Ensure digital communications is built into the Crisis Management Review meeting. Make sure you look closely at what worked, what didn’t and what systems and processes within your company can be improved.
Managing a crisis can be stressful, regardless of the size of the organisation, and the need for fast and coherent communications is essential; the public will demand a conversation with you whether you’re ready or not.

The key to having a good social-media crisis communications strategy is in unifying and simplifying procedures during peacetime. And if executed correctly, using social media in a crisis can help a company build long-term trust with stakeholders, and aid in restoring your brand reputation after a crisis.

Jen Horsman is a consultant at Instinctif Partners on the risk and crisis team

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