Crisis Management in a social setting


As an increasing number of businesses start to use social media, there are an increasing amount of examples of bad crisis management. Multi-channel marketing, user generated content, access to social networks via mobile devices – all of these have contributed to the customer having greater power to make mountains out of molehills, or to legitimately highlight a company’s flaws and misdemeanours to a global audience.
So what do you need to know to manage a social media crisis?

What is a crisis?
This is an important point and requires definition. What exactly is a crisis and what is an issue? Broadly speaking a crisis would be significant enough to have an impact on the bottom line or cause long term damage to your brand reputation (which arguably, could effect your bottom line). An issue is something which will cause a bit of a stir, may result in your customers needing some extra TLC, but ultimately will not cost you financially.

What your businesses classes as a crisis will differ from sector to sector and company to company. It will also depend on your market share, brand values and a whole host of other factors. Consider these carefully, from the point of view of your customer, when you’re planning your crisis management strategy. What may be acceptable to you may be a deal breaker for your customer.

Don’t be the last to know
Crisis management on social media is all about speed of reaction. Early management of a situation can derail its momentum, keeping a potential crisis at manageable level. But with so many platforms available, it can be easy to miss the start of a problem and arrive to the party too late.

Using listening tools such as Sprout, Twilert or Buzzstream can help you to keep on top of any chatter in the social sphere relating to your brand or key product / service terms. Remember – people will not always use your Twitter handle, post on your Facebook group or include the relevant hash tag. It is your responsibility to monitor all discussions of your brand, direct or indirect, on all social platforms.

Policies and procedures
Yes, social media has to have a certain level of spontaneity. Yes, you have to trust your (trained) staff to communicate on brand. But having a policy in place, should the worst happen, is just common sense.

Thinking your brand is exempt form this simply because you don’t have X number of thousand or million followers is naïve. If you are engaging in social media, you are still open to a potential crisis – and one which could affect your revenue. There wouldn’t be any other area of your business that could directly impact your bottom line where you wouldn’t have a disaster recovery procedure in place and your social media channels should operate in the same way.

Dependent on the level of the crisis, your policies need to look at the entire business. Something with severe legal implications, for example the Tesco horsemeat scandal, requires a director or board level response. A lesser issue could be competently handled by management or customer services. Be prepared to categorise and delegate crisis management, ensuring that all levels are aware of the policies and when they might be called upon.

What next?
So you have assessed what a crisis would be in your businesses. You have invested in the right listening tools to ensure you are monitoring your brand on all social platforms. You have a policy in place detailing who should deal with what and when. But how do you actually go about taking all of this strategy out into the social stratosphere?

1. Don’t shy away
Don’t stick your head in the sand and hope it all blows over. Get out there, on the platform the crisis initially started, and respond. Then go to your other platforms and get active there too.

2. Update continuously
During a crisis it is important to be seen to be doing all you can to rectify the issue – even if in reality there’s nothing to update. Keep people aware that you’re working to resolve the issue / it’s being looked into / you will bring more info when it’s available. Re-direct people to web pages that have more information on them. Just keep engaging and informing people.

3. Apologise
If you’ve done something wrong, say sorry. And mean it. This is what you would do face to face, so don’t allow the barrier of a screen to make you forget your manners. People are forgiving, but you have to show remorse and ask for that forgiveness to receive it.

4. Be transparent
Social media is all about being open and honest, never more so than in the midst of a crisis.

5. Don’t argue
We all know there are trolls out there who love to jump on a bandwagon. Don’t let them undermine your efforts to manage the crisis. Respond to initial comments, follow up, but never engage more than 3 times – this is when things can become confrontational. You need to maintain the moral high ground now more than ever, so be very conscious of responding in a civil, well mannered way.

The above guidelines should help you manage your social media presence and, should a crisis occur, you may be better equipped to deal with it. This is not fool proof – sometimes a crisis may prove just too much to recover from, but at least you and your department won’t be fuelling the fire.

For more information on Crisis Management, take a look at Ogilvy & Mather’s slideshare Playbook.

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