We all hear the word ‘crisis’, and naturally sprint to our panic stations. But what would we define as a social media crisis? And how can we best manage these instances? In today’s blog, we will be giving you a lowdown of the dos and don’ts of social media crisis management, to help protect your business amidst any PR disaster.
Why is Your Brand Reputation Important?
Firstly, let’s discuss the importance of your brand’s reputation. Your brand identity is crafted by you: your tone of voice, your values and your product or service offerings. It is easy to convey your brand as such, via the content you share on social media and the way you interact with users; however, the way in which your brand is perceived is far more difficult to control.
For better or for worse, whatever happens on the internet is accessible for all – forever. Potential customers are naturally going to Google search your company, therefore it is vital that your brand reputation precedes you. A customer’s likelihood of making a purchase will directly correlate with how positively your business is perceived online. In the digital world, information travels fast; you must ensure that comments on your social channels and Google reviews reflect your brand’s ethos.
What is Social Media Crisis Management?
The term ‘social media crisis’ is self-explanatory: it is any incident on social media that could negatively impact your business’s reputation. Now, this doesn’t simply account for the odd negative comment; the superlative term ‘crisis’ holds implications of much greater impact. A social media crisis tends to stem from a publicised incident, which subsequently results in an online backlash: a swarm of negative comments and messages. Alternatively, a social media crisis can also refer to a business’s online response to crises around the world: a key example being the Covid-19 pandemic.
As part of your reputation management, it is important that you monitor all comments and reviews regarding your business. So, even if you only receive a minimal amount of negativity online, do not ignore it. While these comments may not necessarily be indicative of a crisis, they could still be the reason that a potential consumer chooses to opt out of purchase. Let’s not lie – it’s all too tempting to read the one-star reviews first! We strongly advise that you reply to the majority of comments – including the negative ones. For more specific tips, take a look at our blog on Negative Comments: How and Why You Should Respond.
However, if you are in the midst of a true social media storm, how do you navigate – let alone manage this? While your instinct may be to bury your head in the sand, and never again see the light of day, trust us, this is the opposite of what you should be doing. You need to be proactive – and reactive. How – we hear you ask? Have a read of our dos and don’ts of social media crisis management below.
Managing a Social Media Crisis: The Dos and Don’ts
There are a number of social media crises that could be detrimental to your business reputation. One of the most notable examples is any controversial statements shared by either leadership or an employee, or even the brand account, sparking a backlash. Additionally, there could be a leak of confidential information – or even an advertising campaign gone wrong. Finally, another key cause of social media crises could be a major issue with your business’s product or service which sparks a series of complaints, particularly if this issue risks customer safety. So, how should your business tackle any of the above?
Do have a crisis communications plan
Social media crisis management naturally begins with a crisis communications team in place: a crisis communications team leader, a crisis communications coordinator, a final approver, legal counsel and an IT technician. Each of these roles contribute in key ways to your crisis communication strategy, and delegating as such will allow you to plan and implement a clear process, and be prepared to respond to said crisis – as a unit.
There are numerous ways to plan ahead; one example is to create social media templates for the aforementioned scenarios. It is also important to develop crisis assessment criteria, making it easy for your team to determine the severity of the situation, and thus, the suitable response – all of which you should base on your social media templates, which you can amend in kind. For example, this criterion can include the basics: what happened, where and when it happened, who it involved, and how many people are aware or affected. Finally, you need to ensure that the appropriate team members have access to your account, policies and protocols, which can be achieved by creating an all-important social media governance model.
Having such a rigorous plan in place is essential, as time is of the essence: customers generally expect a response within 24 hours.
Do listen and learn
Regardless of what the scenario may be, it is important that, as a business, you listen to all feedback – positive and negative. If your company is receiving a barrage of critique, it can feel daunting and isolating, and even like a personal attack. However, it is crucial that you take a step back, and look at the situation objectively. You need to identify the source of customer unhappiness or unease, and understand why the actions of your business have made them feel this way. Understanding and accepting responsibility for any wrongdoing is the first step, the second is learning from these mistakes, and taking preventative measures to ensure that this does not happen again.
Try to frame everything positively – as difficult as this may seem amidst a social media storm! Take it simply as a learning curve, which will allow your business to be the best version of itself in the future.
Don’t lash out
We cannot emphasise enough how crucial it is that you do not fight fire with fire. As previously mentioned, you may feel personally under attack by this flurry of negativity – and it is all too tempting to argue back, and fight your corner. However, if you have followed our instructions above, you will already have a crisis communications plan in place, and you will be actively listening to and learning from even the most unfavourable feedback. This, of course, comes with the exception of trolling: any hate speech should be flagged immediately. However, if people are genuinely voicing their upset or concerns, the very last thing you should do is bite back. And that goes for trolls too: do not sink to their level and dignify them with a response. Always remember, professionalism comes first.
However, it is important that you communicate with your community in the right way. We will go into more detail about how, exactly, to communicate with your followers in due course, but first – how do you communicate with your co-workers mid-crisis?
In order to activate your crisis communications plan, you must identify your internal chain of communication: who is first informed of the potential crisis? What are the actionables for employees? Who is responsible for sharing status updates? Also – does this vary depending on the type and severity of the crisis? Once everyone in your team has been informed, it is important that everyone is able to stay in touch while implementing your processes, communicating in real-time. At Social Chameleon, we use Slack for our everyday communication, and similar platforms would be an ideal way for your team members to keep up to date during social media crisis management. You should create a channel specifically for this purpose, including only the team members involved.
Beyond internal communication, a paramount part of your social media crisis management is planning how you will communicate with your audience. A great way of starting this is by creating a social media policy. This document will lay out your brand’s stance on the situation, your messaging strategy, and any approved copy to be published. Generally speaking, this copy should consist of a social media post(s) formally responding to the incident, which communicates your brand’s aforementioned stance. This should be based around your social media template, which we mentioned earlier. What’s more, the document should also include approved social media messaging, so that you have a pre-planned response to comments and messages, in addition to any posts you publish. Ensure that your crisis communication team leader and legal counsel have the final say on this.
Lastly, you need to decide which social platforms will best serve this communication. Think about which channels gain the most traction with your audience, and also, which are best suited to the crisis at hand. Some companies choose to distribute their response across all social media platforms, however, this should be a judgement call – as every scenario is different.
Do respond with empathy and professionalism
Once you have developed this message protocol document in full, it should be clear which messages you should be responding to – and how to do so. Keyword monitoring will allow you to flag online discussions about your brand, even if you aren’t being overtly tagged. A crisis naturally leads to a dramatic increase in inbound messages, and responding to these is a key part of your social media crisis management. But don’t fret! There are a plethora of tools out there to help you respond swiftly; a social media chatbot, for example, is a great way to provide instantaneous answers to those who need them.
In terms of the ‘how’ – whatever your response is, this should be already mapped out in your social media policy document. There should certainly be no off-the-cuff replies that have not gone through the necessary channels of approval. However, within these pre-planned responses, you still want to sound authentic, professional, and empathetic to the situation. This response should be a product of your listening and learning, showcasing the human side of your brand, and your ability to own up and apologize if necessary, while also vowing to do better next time.
Don’t ignore the issue
This goes without saying – but we are going to say it anyway! Do not, under any circumstance, bypass the above and ignore the issue. If this social media crisis is truly a crisis in nature, it certainly will not go away overnight. What’s more, simply walking on by will do nothing for your brand reputation. You want to be perceived as a brand who cares about its customers and community, and wants to incite positive change. Therefore, it is crucial that you are seen to be proactive in your response to any issues surrounding your company. Think of social media crisis management as damage control: if you do not repair the damage in haste, it could likely leave a permanent scar.
In all honesty, this is easier said than done in any crisis situation. We can always predict how we will respond to crises (cool as a cucumber, naturally), but in the moment, panic can ensue. However, with your trusty plans and protocols in place, there is nothing to panic about! So take a step back, and several deep breaths, and remember everything we’ve gone through in today’s blog. Social media crisis management? Check.