Successful social media crisis mitigation begins with pre-crisis planning. No individual, organization or business entity is immune to a social media or online reputation crisis. Being prepared and understanding how to handle the situation is critical in surviving the crisis and starting recovery as quickly as possible.
Understanding when a crisis is a crisis.
A crisis is a situation that potentially could cause harm to people or property, or threatens to interrupt business, damage your reputation or degrade value.
Understanding when a crisis is happening is different than handling objections or problems as part of “business as ususal”. Typically, a crisis occurs when the information about the situation is still evolving and hence the need to create effective steps to handle information gathering and dissemination. The important part of crisis management is having an organizated plan in place to handle crisis communications. The worst thing you can do is simply respond without having a plan – and potentially you could actually make the crisis worse.
One of the saddest examples recently that I can point to is the Facebook rants of Amy’s Baking Company. You may want to read this Buzzfeed article if you missed the story, but this is an epic example of what NOT to do when responding to a customer.
Step 1. SET UP RULES AND LISTEN.
In today’s communication environment, the first sign of a crisis may be through social media. A Twitpic taken on the scene, or a Facebook post by an event attendee or shopper or consumer… only by listening and monitoring will you be able to identify that a crisis may be brewing. When the bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the information was posted on Twitter before any of the networks picked up the story. Pictures of the possible perpetrators were captured by witnesses and participants which lead to the arrest and capture. Gone are the days of anonymity. Today, there are multiple ways to gather information an if you are not monitoring your brand and listening to what is being said, you are creating a dangerous situation. Remember the Pizza Hut worker who took video of sticking the cheese up his nose then putting it on a sandwich for a customer? If you are the owner of that Pizza Hut, you better bet you would want to know why your sales suddenly plummeted! Or even more recently, the TacoBell employee seen licking a stack of tacos? Again, the image is shared like wildfire – if you are not listening or monitoring the conversation, you will not have an opportunity to mitigate the damage or respond.
Step 2. SET UP RULES OF WHO RESPONDS.
Having the software in place is only half of the equation, there also has to be an appropriate protocol to determine who is responsible for listening and what the plan is for responding. A good rule of thumb is that the more acute an issue may be, the higher level the responder must be. If something is a small problem, it can be handled by customer service. If it is a full crisis, it should be escalated to a senior staff member. Having a response flow chart and up-to-date contact information can expedite an appropriate response to a crisis. At the very least, knowledge is power. Perhaps there is something that happened that proves unpopular with your consituency. Having that information quickly enablees your organization to be agile and responsive.
Step 3. SET UP RULES REGARDING WHEN TO RESPOND.
No matter where in the organization the authority resides, it is important to understand what an appropriate response should be, and when it should be made. This may require training for senior staff. Responding to every situation or event is not always the best thing to do. There are examples where responding would only escalate the situation and bring more attention to it. Having rules in advance takes the guesswork out of determining when to respond and what to say. For a larger organization is also stamdardisng the response so that different members of your company are all singing the same song. One of the worst situations is where people who should not be responding are sharing opinion and not facts – this can become a even greater PR nightmare. Be sure to determine who is authorized to speak and what they are authorized to speak about.
Step 4. SET UP WHAT TO SAY.
Having the legal team create some pre-approved messaging and response processes is helpful. In addition, just like a fire drill assures that prepares you for that emergency, having periodic role-playing exercises and simulated crisis is very helpful preparation for the real thing. Training for the spokesperson should focus on being able to respond in sound bytes. Just as Twitter has only 140 characters to share a message, so do the Broadcast stations have limited time to share a message. Sound bytes, taken out of context can be quite bad. Be sure to train your spokespeople to speak in sentences that are full thoughts, not bits and pieces that can be taken out of context.
Understanding where to post your social response is also important. We’ll cover that in the next article.