It is safe to say that in your life as a social media pro, you will more than likely encounter a social media crisis. It’s just the way it goes. Social media is such an uncontrolled space where anyone can say anything, which fosters rumors and negative comments to spread like wildfire >> whether they are true, or not. I’ve worked for a couple of organizations that have had their run-ins with public relations’ crises that soon become social media crises. Suddenly, it’s an all-hands-on-deck atmosphere of panic where everyone has their own strong opinion on how it should be handled. Here’s the thing most people miss, though, about social media >> everything is documented that your brand has said, including comments or press releases that led to the current controversy. The more you try to brush a crisis under the rug, the more tweets with screenshots will appear about your brand. The most important thing is to remain calm, and DO NOT respond until you follow at least these seven steps:
Be Honest With Yourself
This is the very first, most important step of ANY crisis. Calm down, assess the situation and be completely honest with yourself about the crisis. Did you make a mistake that caused it? Did you accidentally release a product that was not up to par, or did you send a tweet that was taken the wrong way? Crisis management on social media works best when you can be entirely authentic in the way you respond. When you point blank admit you made a mistake, rather than try to cover it up, you will find a much more forgiving audience.
Create An Approved Response
I’ve been in many situations where someone thinks it’s better to bypass executives and just get a quick response out on social. You are welcome to do that, but you will look pretty idiotic when you have retract your response because an executive didn’t agree with it. Or, even worse, you end up in a legal fight because you said something your brand legally cannot say. Everyone in your company is there for a reason, and it is important to lean into their expertise when there is a crisis. Work with PR to draft a response, and then make sure every key executive and legal has approved it before it hits the public. This step will save you every time, even though it might make you appear a little late to the game. Hint: The more honest, authentic and raw you are in your press release, the more you will quiet the storm.
Create Approved Talking Points
Talking points are even more crucial to managing a social media crisis than the public statement from your brand. You need to know what questions to expect and how you should answer them. Taking a ‘no-response’ approach to questions on social media during a crisis does not help your brand, it only makes it seem more guilty for not explaining its stance. Sometimes, those talking points include just owning up to the mistake and apologizing. Other times, they include pointing to well-substantiated articles proving that the information being spread about your brand through the crisis is simply untrue. Make sure the PR team, key executives and legal sign off on the talking points before you start responding on social, of course.
Communicate With Your Employees
One of the biggest mistakes brands make when trying to publicly handle a crisis is addressing the crisis publicly before ever letting their own employees know what it is going on. Working with key executives, internal communications and legal, send an email to all-staff that explains the crisis, your plan for responding to the crisis and directions on how they should be addressing the crisis online. Often times, for other companies I worked for, we would ask employees not to post on social about the crisis until they saw our brand’s response posted on social media. Sometimes, we would also provide some guidelines for what they should/should not say on their personal social media networks. More often than not, employees care about the brand’s reputation as much as you do, and are willing to let you take the lead on social.
Post Response On Social
Once employees are all notified, it is safe to post the response on social. Some companies have wanted a screenshot of the press release posted on social, but that is not the way to go. Make sure to develop creative that matches the social networks you are posting on, so it does not appear to be a cold, corporate response to a crisis. Pull the strongest quotes of the release and include them in a branded template graphic. Then post the release to your brand’s website and link to it via all social posts.
Respond To Questions On Social
This is an incredibly important step. Most brands, up until the point of social, could get away with not engaging with questions. This isn’t the case in today’s digitally savvy world where consumers feel closer to the brand than ever. Here’s the general rule >> If you are a brand that usually responds to consumers on social, you absolutely have to respond to them during a crisis. This is where your approved talking points will become invaluable. If you are a brand that has taken the ‘do not engage with consumers’ approach to social (which I never recommend), than you will have a better chance of getting by with a no-response approach to a crisis.
Revisit Original Response And Talking Points
As questions flood in on social, you might realize that your release and/or talking points do not match what people are concerned about. This is a cycle, so make sure you start at the beginning again to ensure your release and talking points are working to subdue the crisis, rather than add fuel to the fire.
Anything can happen in the ever-changing environment of social media. These steps can help you take control of a crisis and ensure your brand comes out on top. What are other ways you have found to be effective to manage social media crises? Leave your tips in the comments below!
– Marji J. Sherman