It’s always a little uncomfortable to talk about PR crises.
We all obviously want to dig our heads in the sand and say “that would never happen to my brand!”
And if everything goes according to plan, it never will.
But how often do things go according to plan?
Crisis communications – online or off – is something where you need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Know how to handle a social media crisis, make sure your team is ready to do so at any moment, and hope you’ll never be called to action.
And in case things go awry, follow these tips.
Want to build a tool kit to deal with any social media crisis? Download our free cheat sheet!
How to take the stress out of social media crises
1. Be prepared
The first step is an obvious one. The first time your team talks about managing a crisis shouldn’t be as your first one is happening!
Create a crisis communications plan that includes guidelines for any kind of crisis – online, offline, social, etc. Already having one ready when you need it will take care of one of the hardest parts of a crisis: figuring out what to do and what to tell the public.
By deciding what steps your brand will take in a crisis, how you’ll communicate that to your audience, and delegating who’s doing what – all in advance – you’ll have fewer split-second decisions to deal with.
And in situations like these, that’s a breath of fresh air.
2. Remember you’re humans appealing to humans
Once a crisis has hit and people are asking you questions, it can be tempting to fall back on “brand speak.” Removing yourself from the situation a bit, hiding behind a corporate identity, makes facing the public a little less scary.
But it’s the wrong move.
Your brand voice should always sound human on social media, but it’s even more important in a crisis. Turn conversations about the crisis into a personal conversation, appeal to emotions, and generally be personable.
Your brand has just lost trust, and any empathy you can evoke can help manage crisis mode.
“The biggest misstep I see brands make during a social media crisis is that they switch to ‘corporate speak’ when responding to fans. Stay true to your voice, even in a time of crisis.” – David Hernandez, lotus823
3. Share frequent updates
Another way to start re-establishing trust with your audience is to show your brand’s dedication to managing whatever problem started everything.
In the midst of a crisis, communicate frequently on all channels your customers look for you on – that means your social media channels in addition to any owned properties.
Cross-post the most important information your audience wants or needs in any social media crisis. And like all important content, you’ll want to share it more than once. Use a scheduling tool in a crisis to pause your “regularly scheduled programming” and instead make sure everyone sees your more important updates.
4. Monitor social media constantly and respond quickly
In addition to sending out “full statements” to your whole audience, you’ll want to send individual replies to your audience as well.
During a crisis, there are going to be a lot of people reaching out directly on social media, and even more having conversations about you with other people.
You’ll need to find everything being said, jump into conversations going off-track, and answer questions from your audience.
Monitoring makes it way easier to find conversations on multiple channels, whether you’re tagged or linked to or not. With some tools, you can also engage and manage the crisis from your monitoring dashboard.
“Regardless if it is Twitter or Facebook or another social network, some companies forget to monitor their social media channels right away, and that lack of communication can get worse the longer that people have no answer.” – Nile Flores, Blondish.net
Create opportunities for wins
The way you manage a social media crisis in general can also help rebuild trust with your audience.
The way you behave, the things you say, the values you prioritize – all of that can create opportunities to redeem yourself.
Things like being honest and transparent, putting your customers before your brand, owning up to a mistake, etc. can all do that.
“Try and turn something negative into a positive – while your company might be getting all this bad press about their [mistake], it’s still attention and a chance to get your brand recognized.
So when managed effectively, you could actually use it as a way to show potential customers how great your customer service department is, and how much you actually do care about [the customers].” – Anna, CardioTech
Use employees as advocates
Don’t just rely on your main company accounts to post during a social media crisis. Use employee advocacy to help spread your message.
Empowering as many members of your team as possible with make a crisis that much more easier to deal with, as long as you lay out ground rules.
Encourage employees to re-share messages from you brand’s main account. Give them guidelines for how to respond to anyone asking them questions. Give suggestions on how to communicate the brand voice and values.
This both makes crisis management easier and shows your brand still has your employees’ support.
“Companies dealing with a social crisis shouldn’t be afraid to use their number one power online – their employees. In the event a company crisis breaks out, it’s important to have an employee communications plan for how to react online.
On occasion, you might want employees to “do nothing” or “say nothing” on their personal platforms, [but that’s a mistake].” – Ashley E. Stein, Shred Nations
Reflect after the fact
Once all the madness is over, you don’t get to wash your hands of it and move on right away.
First of all, you need to be on the lookout for any lasting effects the crisis has on your brand. And constantly be trying to repair the damage.
And once enough time has passed, you need to conduct a postmortem analysis and reflect on the crisis.
Ask yourself things like:
- Why did this crisis happen? Could anything have been done to prevent it?
- How was our reaction time in managing the crisis?
- Did we communicate with our audience to keep them informed enough?
- How long did everything take to resolve?
- What can you do in the future to make crisis management better?
You don’t want this to happen again, but now that you know how to deal with it, you want to make sure your job gets easier each time you go into “crisis mode.”
Stay calm and work through it
No crises are easy. That’s why it’s a crisis.
But being prepared for a social media crisis makes it a lot less stressful. You know what’s coming, what to do about it, and everything else you need.
What are your best tips for a social media disaster?