Social media has accelerated exponentially the speed with which information is circulated. With each and every one of us a potential reporter equipped with a device in our pockets to share news with the world, organisations need to be prepared to communicate and respond as quickly as it takes our interconnected selves to click like and share.
As much as the age of social media scares some of us, it should be seen as an incredible tool to use to our advantage in times when confusion reigns, information is scarce and rumours and speculation fill the gaps in news reports and conversations.
If you don’t have a Facebook page or Twitter account for your organisation and think this article isn’t relevant to you, please think again. Not only do you open yourself to the risk of your name being high jacked in a time when you need clear, unambiguous messages to be communicated, your social media page (however dormant in everyday business), is the first place that affected people, the public, media and other stakeholders will look for information. By not having social media accounts, you are denying yourself a powerful crisis communications platform.
We have in recent cases seen how a relatively small and isolated incident can go viral on social media and cause great brand damage. We have seen graphic images become synonym with an organisation’s brand and how bad news stories still circulate months after the event, causing confusion over whether it is old news or new. The anger, fear and confusion led to a social media frenzy with hundreds of thousands of abusive comments and negative campaigns, which spiralled into further criticism of the companies for not responding and leaving social media to take its’ course. The only thing these organisations had in common, was that they were slow to react with clear, transparent communications and even slower to acknowledge the threat and opportunity that social media holds.
In contrast, we have seen major issues such as baby product dangers and devastating incidents such as terrorist attacks and aviation incidents where social media was used to rapidly disseminate information and demonstrate compassion, action and commitment by the relevant organisations. By being available to communicate on social media, these companies were praised for their quick action and more importantly, trusted during the event as a credible source of information.
Your partner in crisis – readiness, response, recovery
In crises, there are two things to always consider as a foundation to all aspects of your response: 1) consider the most affected people first, and 2) you can only control your own response. This also applies to your social media crisis management. By communicating quickly and accurately and considering the affected people as the main reader of your message, you simply cannot go wrong. Also, you can monitor and evaluate the general social media environment, but you only have control over your own message and the activity on your own pages.
The key to fast and effective social media crisis response is good preparation. Consider having the following at hand:
- Administrative passwords and permissions to all your social media platforms.
- Monochrome logos and cover images, cropped to size. Use these in serious incidents to demonstrate compassion and total commitment by your organisation to the issue at hand.
- Pre-approved holding statements and FAQs according to likely scenarios. I emphasise pre-approved. These statements should also be adapted to each social media platform. Twitter for instance could link to longer statements on your dark site.
- Social Media Agents on call to support you in maintaining a strong social media presence by responding to concerns and enquiries in the comment or private message section of your platform – people expect real time conversation on social media. These agents should be trained and understand the implications and sensitivities around communicating with customers in a high-pressure, public environment. Agents should monitor, identify issues, and respond in a timely, appropriate manner. In a recent aviation disaster, we have seen messages from concerned family members go unanswered. Agents can identify these affected people and proactively reach out to them.
- Have a contact centre that interacts with your social media team, to support your social media team to proactively get in touch with customers or affected people. It is always better to take a conversation offline and have a person on the other side of a phone who understands the issue and have visibility on the history of the conversation.
- Have a good Social Media Usage Policy stating that any abusive, derogatory or bad language will be removed. Enforce these rules, particularly in crisis. It is your page and you have the editing power to hide comments that could be insensitive to other users, particularly affected people during crisis. Do not hide or delete criticism, but maintain good housekeeping on your page to ensure a respectful forum.
- Have a good crisis communications and legal team who work together well to support your rapid communications on social media as issues come to light through enquiries and wider monitoring.
Please get in touch with us if you would like us to support your social media crisis readiness and response at firstname.lastname@example.org .