Social media crisis response made easy

Why do we, as an industry, conduct media training, develop fact sheets and FAQ documents, build out contingency plans, and provide backgrounders to our clients at the outset of campaigns and relationships?

Why do we, as an industry, conduct media training, develop fact sheets and FAQ documents, build out contingency plans, and provide backgrounders to our clients at the outset of campaigns and relationships?

It comes down to being ready for the unexpected, and the same goes for PR firms that are managing and building out clients' presences in the social media space.

Fast forward to a social media crisis: you're representing an airline that's dealing with thousands of passengers affected by delays, a corporation led by a CEO who ignored international labor laws, or a pet food company whose products caused hundreds of animals to get sick. Your customers are tweeting and posting on your Facebook wall, asking questions, and demanding answers.

The contingency plans that your team developed at the outset of a campaign or client relationship are going to make the difference between a successful crisis response and a nightmare.

Five keys to planning for successful social media crisis response:

Understand your audience. If you are managing social media for your clients, you know the online communities and individuals that have the greatest impact on the conversation. Make sure every member of your team fully understands these ecosystems and how they affect your brand. If this background is lacking, do some research and listening before you are actually in the line of fire.

Never stop listening. Use available tools to know what is being said about your brand on a regular basis. Paid monitoring tools such as Radian6 and RowFeeder help automate this process, but free tools like Google Alerts and RSS readers can also allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of what is being said about your brand and anticipate any conversation that may arise due to a crisis.

Create social media guidelines. The easiest way to mishandle a social media crisis is to not have guidelines in place. Your team should have a plan of attack when it comes to responding (or not responding) to consumers or members of the media. It's also important to outline how updates on the crisis are communicated back to the client, to ensure that all the right people and departments touched by the issue (legal, advertising, etc.) know what's going on. Day-to-day social media guidelines create community conversation schemas or models for future interactions and, frequently, communities will regulate themselves during a crisis if these are already in place.

Be transparent. Transparency can make or break a brand's image during a crisis. The openness of social media means that our community managers and clients are always on the record. Transparency starts with the leaders of an organization but social media and PR are their communication gateways, and we are the gatekeepers.

Stay in touch. Keeping the community in the loop is important. Brand websites and social network profiles give organizations the opportunity to speak directly to customers. Make sure that your clients are utilizing this benefit to update visitors frequently, especially during tough times.

Rob Longert is a digital media strategist at M Booth & Associates.

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