In any business, things can go wrong. And, whether it’s a crisis, an emergency or an embarrassing faux pas, customers, partners and the media head straight to a brand’s social-media presence for a response.

Is your business prepared for this kind of occasion?

While you may hope that you will never find yourself in a crisis, sometimes things get out of control.

Perhaps an offensive tweet was sent out from your brand’s account by accident, a PR crisis is going viral, or a hashtag campaign has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The best way to prepare for an emergency is to plan in advance.

Work out the best approach for dealing with a range of crises ahead of time so that, should an emergency arise, you and your staff know what to do.

 

Setting up a social-media crisis plan

In a crisis, modern-day consumers seek out a brand’s social presence. Social media’s status as a real-time communication tool can be ideal for a business that is hoping to disseminate accurate information quickly.

Take these 11 steps to make sure your social-media crisis plan is ready to go, should the worst happen:

 

1.     Build good social relationships 

Don’t leave your social-media accounts out in the wilderness until there is an emergency. To generate goodwill in the event of a crisis, make sure you are consistently active and building positive relationships.

 

2.     Create brand guidelines

Put policies in place about how your social communications should be managed.

Can customer-care staff on Twitter use humour to deflect a complaint? Do members of staff use their names in their communications? Should messages with errors in them be deleted?

The more familiar your social-media communicators are with your brand guidelines, the more likely they will be to be able to implement them effectively, even during a crisis.

 

3.     Have a ‘listening’ plan in place

Sometimes, the first you know about a crisis is an influx of angry tweets or outraged Facebook messages.

The nature of social media means that a business can quickly gauge public opinion; the messages you receive will rapidly clue you into what your customers or colleagues think, so if you’re not paying attention to your social feeds, you could take far too long to detect the problem.

This could lead to a rapid escalation of negative public feeling. So make sure you have a social-media monitoring plan set up.

 

hootsuite
Hootsuite is a great way to stay on top of Tweets and monitor any mentions of your brand

 

 

4.     Identify the problem

Once you have become aware that there is a problem, do your best to get a clear picture of what has taken place:

 

  • Has an error been made?
  • Has an employee, an outsourced member of staff, or somebody else been implicated?
  • What, exactly, has gone wrong?
  • When did it happen?
  • Is somebody at fault? Was this an accident?
  • How much damage has been done?

 

5.     Who should be involved?

Who has access to your social-media accounts? Do you know how to limit other people’s access in the event of a crisis?

In some crises, you will want all hands on deck, replying to messages and dealing with the aftermath of whatever has gone wrong.

However, in some circumstances, you might prefer to shut down social-media access to everybody except one or two key people.

The last thing you need, in the event of an emergency, is to find out that nobody knows how to stop that disgruntled ex-employee logging into the company Twitter account!

 

6.     Plan your response

If somebody at your company has made a terrible mistake or misjudgement, how do you want to respond?

Make a plan that takes into account the answers to the following questions:

 

  • What tone do you want to use in your response? You might be apologetic, humorous (be careful with this one!) or serious.
  • Which social networks will be included in your crisis response plan?
  • Do you want to issue a single statement on social media that provides basic information, or would you prefer to deal with every comment and question as it arises?
  • How much information do you want to release? The absolute basics, or a full autopsy of the situation?
  • Do you want to defend yourself? Or take full responsibility? Transparency and openness tend to be received more positively by the public.

 

7.     Should a crisis occur, cancel all scheduled messages

In the event of an emergency, stop all your pre-scheduled messages from going out.

An innocent pun that seemed like a good idea yesterday could be catastrophic if it is seen to be in bad taste in the midst of your desperate crisis-intervention efforts.

 

reviveTools such as Revive Old Post is great for extending the shelf life of your content, but if something major happens, it makes sense to pause scheduled messages

 

8.     In the worst-case scenario, implement the plan

Everybody is hoping this will never happen but, should an emergency arise, you need to implement your plan seamlessly.

Everybody who will be dealing with any social communications should be clearly briefed on what information will be released and how the communications will be dealt with.

 

9.     Listen

Don’t copy and paste the same quick response to everybody who sends you a message. Pay attention to the comments members of the public are making, or the questions they are asking, and respond individually, as best you can.

People hate not being listened to, and you don’t want to make anybody even angrier than they already were!

 

10. Stay calm

Social-media storms can arise, seemingly out of nowhere, and suddenly all of the hate in the world lands in your lap.

It may be tempting to bite back against this abuse, but don’t. Stay calm, take a deep breath, and ignore the haters.

 

11. Be realistic

 Ok, so you’ve made a mistake. You want to make it better. But if you’re one person running a website, people can’t expect you to have the same recovery plans in place as they would if you were a massive multi-national corporation.

Sometimes, sending out a message saying, “We’ve messed up. We will provide a response within 4 hours” can be the most effective – and realistic – approach.

 

Conclusion

Your company social media manager is usually on the frontline when anything goes wrong with your business.

Whether it’s a service issue, or a PR disaster, it’s the member of staff behind the social accounts who will have the sometimes unenviable task of handling the fallout.

However, if handled correctly, the damage caused by these scenarios can be limited or even reversed.

Consider your social accounts the face of your business. Your response in the early stages of any business critical disaster is absolutely vital.

Get it right and you could save yourself much embarrassment and help maintain your good reputation – get it wrong and you may never recover, or even end up as a case study in an article like this!

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Your Say

Have you ever had to handle a social media disaster? How did you respond in those first few vital minutes and hours? Drop us a comment below.

Written by

Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a freelance writer specialising in writing about SEO, social media and internet marketing. She lives in the north of England and also enjoys podcasting, making videos and trying to change the world.