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How to prepare for and manage a social media crisis

How to prepare for and manage a social media crisis

Stuff can spread like wildfire on social media. While marketers strive for virality, it's a double-edged sword. A viral nightmare instead of a viral sensation, can be a disaster. This means having a social media crisis management plan is essential. I'm going to show you how to be ready for a crisis, and what to do to minimize damage to your brand.

Set up Alerts to track my brand mentions

If you are a social media manager, you should be ready for a crisis. Crisis preparedness will help you mitigate risks and reduce damage. Here are three simple steps that will help you manage a crisis and protect your brand.

How to monitor your brand mentions

The most important aspect of crisis management is being aware of it at the very beginning. In the fast-moving world of social media, being aware of a situation and responding in a timely fashion is extremely critical. This will prevent an issue from becoming a full-blown crisis. The best way to do this is by setting up Talkwalker Alerts for your keywords. I am also sharing some best practices for setting up alerts to make your life easier.

  • Use Boolean operators to narrow down your searches – If you set up alerts for broad search terms, you might end up with a lot of irrelevant results. You can narrow your results by including these three most common Boolean operators:

    AND (results will include both keywords),
    AND NOT (results will exclude the second keyword),
    OR (results will include either of the keywords). You can also use brackets to make more complex searches.
    Example: Instead of setting up an alert for Apple, it is recommended to set up alerts for Apple AND (iPhone OR iPad OR iMac OR iWatch OR MacBook).
  • Set up Talkwalker alerts to monitor brand mentions to prevent social media crisis

  • Set alerts for taglines – Sometimes brand taglines become extremely successful and replace the brand name itself. For instance, Nike’s tagline “Just Do it” or Coca-Cola’s tagline “Open Happiness” is used without mentioning the brand itself. In such cases, setting an alert for the tagline can be useful. Don’t forget to use quotation marks when setting alerts for taglines.
  • Set up Talkwalker alerts to monitor brand taglines to prevent social media crisis

  • Company’s executive team – You should also set up alerts for the key executives and media spokespersons from your company. Afterall, the reputation of your leaders impacts the reputation of your company.

Create a definition of a social media crisis

A negative comment here and there does not qualify to be a crisis; people will say negative things about you online. A situation will qualify as a social media crisis if:

  • It involves strong negative emotions
  • It can have a lasting negative impact on your brand reputation
  • It can confuse your customers, stakeholders, clients and even employees
  • It has the potential to go viral

To be prepared, companies should have a set of predefined topics (red flag situations) that makes them vulnerable. For this, study what has happened inside and outside the company, both online and offline. List the situations/topics that have triggered a crisis in the past for your brand. Also, list the issues that have led to industry-wide crises or affected your competitors in the past. An evaluation of these situations and subjects will help in creating responses to conversations that can erupt in the future.

Build a social media crisis communication policy

A policy document serves as a guideline for crisis communication. It helps in responding to issues without delay, rather than debating how to handle the situation or waiting for approval from senior management. What should a policy document include:

  • Channel specific policies – Every channel is unique and has a different communication format. While LinkedIn is professional, Twitter and Facebook are casual. Make sure to highlight the differences in the policy document so that the communication team follows the content guidelines even during a crisis. For more details on the different types of messaging for different channels, download this Social media messaging checklist.

  • Audience specific policies – Responding to a dissatisfied customer is different from replying to a journalist. The policy document should cover the different segments of audiences and provide clear instructions on how to respond to each type of audience and who will respond to them.

  • No-go topics – Your social media crisis communication policy should include a list of forbidden/no-go topics. There are certain subjects or issues that every business wants to avoid in their communication ranging from politics and rumors to sex and religion. Your policy document should explicitly state each no-go topic to ensure that the communication team is aware of what to include and what not to include in their correspondence.

  • Determine Service Level Agreement (SLA) – In crisis communication, SLA is extremely important. If an issue is left unanswered for a long period, it can turn into a crisis. An SLA should be defined depending on the issue.

  • Social media crisis communication team – The policy document should assign a communication specialist for every product/segment/topic to take ownership of the process. A person in a leadership position should also be appointed, in case there is a need to communicate with the media. The document should include the names and contact details of all team members.

  • Line of approval – The idea of creating a social media crisis communication policy is to ensure that things move swiftly with the least amount of bureaucracy. However, certain topics might require multiple approvals from different levels of management. The line of approval for every topic should also be covered in the document so that communication managers know who to contact and can continue to work effectively.

While the above steps will help you prepare for a crisis and keep you from witnessing major setbacks, you might not be able to avoid a crisis altogether. In the next part of this blog, I will discuss measures to be taken during a crisis to ensure that things do not blow out of proportion.

Check all scheduled posts

Your social media audience will watch every move of yours during a crisis and you should not come across as impassive and thoughtless. After a crisis/issue takes place, your first move should be to review all the scheduled posts again. Make sure that your posts are appropriate to the new situation. Pause all promotional posts, contests and discount campaigns. You can resume these campaigns, once the situation comes under control.

Your social media team should devote their time into monitoring the ongoing conversations. If you want to monitor all your conversations from the last 7 days, try the Talkwalker’s Free Social Search tool. This tool will help you find out what is being said about your brand and who is talking about you. You can use these insights to respond in an appropriate way.

Use Free Search during a social media crisis to monitor ongoing conversations and respond to negative attacks

Internal communication

During a crisis, you must update other employees and stakeholders about the situation. Misinformation spreads fast and can cause more damage during a crisis. Communicate with your employees and all other stakeholders in a timely manner and inform them on the latest updates.

Share a list of dos and don’ts to ensure that everyone knows what they can say and what they should not say. Enthusiastic employees who trust the company can act as your advocates if they know exactly what to communicate. Create messaging that can be used by them on their social media accounts.

Create a dedicated crisis response page

Instead of having several communications on multiple channels, try to consolidate the conversations on a single page. Create a dedicated landing page on your website that contains all information about the crisis – how it occurred, steps being taken by the company to prevent it from happening again, what should affected customers do, contact information for affected customers.

Respond on social media

The first step towards moving things to a positive direction is acknowledging the issue. Take responsibility and ensure your customers/audiences that you are investigating the issue. Make your intentions clear – tell them that you always act in the best interest of your customer. Share the crisis response page on social media and ask your followers to share their questions and concerns on this page.

While responding to tweets and posts, make sure that you communicate in an open and transparent manner. Some customers might not be convinced even after your best efforts; do not begin an argument with them.

Here is an example of a social media crisis managed extremely well:

Zion Williamson, the American basketball player suffered a severe knee injury when his Nike shoes malfunctioned. This episode was posted by several media channels on social media leading to a drop of 1.7% in the stock prices of Nike.

Barack Obama, the former president of the United States of America was at the game. He tweeted wishing Williamson a speedy recovery.

Nike responded by releasing a statement expressing their concerns and wishing Williamson well. They assured everyone that they are investigating the issue. This assurance was followed by action. Nike sent a team to the location where the game took place and to their manufacturing site in China. After taking the suggestion from this team, Nike sent custom shoes to Zion Williamson. Williamson returned to the court after a month and thanked Nike for the comfortable shoes.

Involve executives if necessary

It is common for CEOs to speak with the media during a crisis; a social media crisis is no different. A response/post from the account of a senior executive assures people. It gives a human face to the company and shows that they are ready to take responsibility. Having said that, if you use your CEO for every situation, it will reduce the impact. Different events deserve a different level of response. Judge the situation, and use this super-power if you feel that CEO intervention is necessary.

Write comprehensive documentation

While we all like to hope that there will be no next time when it comes to a crisis, you need to be prepared for such situations. A detailed documentation, highlighting every event, along with images and screenshots should be created during a social media crisis. Post crisis, include a list of best practices in the document. This will help the communications team in understanding what went wrong in the previous situation. This document will allow them to analyse the past scenario and respond faster if a similar case takes place again.

Social media crisis is hard to prevent. However, if you have a comprehensive social media crisis management plan and you are armed with all the right tools, things will not magnify to a level that it damages your reputation permanently.

To get notified every time your brand is being mentioned in a conversation, set up Talkwalker Alerts in about 30 seconds. This tool will help manage a crisis and even prevent it.

Social media crisis - CTA