There was a time when a brand crisis was something that would take days to evolve. A misbehaving executive or a product recall was an embarrassing problem, but it would take hours (or days) to spread around the world and appear in the newspapers and on TV. By then, your press office would be well-briefed, and they’d have a clear, decisive statement worked out. Those days are long gone. A social media crisis can break out in minutes, and it won’t take long to “go viral”, attract the attention of the “blogosphere”, and then hit the mainstream media too.
If phrases like tweeting, Tumblr and hashtags are alien to you, then the speed with which bad news spreads online might come as a surprise. Your traditional crisis management plans won’t work for a social media crisis. You need to act quickly and decisively, and nominate a spokesperson who can choose their words carefully.
Simple Steps for Decisive Crisis Management
The key to social media crisis management is to know your audience, respond promptly, and be honest and genuine in your responses:
- Understand the stakeholders in the situation – if the crisis is internal, address the concerns of your employees. If it’s external, address your customers, clients or suppliers. Don’t try to address everyone with one message. Craft a message that answers the specific concerns of each group.
- Acknowledge the problem – listen to the concerns that are being put forward, and acknowledge them. If an employee posted something that caused offense, acknowledge that explicitly. Don’t cop out and say “We’re sorry you were offended”, acknowledge that the message was offensive, and explain how you’re going to put things right.
- Follow through – Saying sorry isn’t enough. If you’ve promised to compensate people in some way, you need to follow through on that.
- Listen to the response – Don’t assume that your initial apology will be enough. Pay attention to how people respond, and be ready to address more concerns and respond to consumer feedback. Respond quickly and give lots of updates to your customers (and the media, if applicable) while the crisis is going on.
After a social media blunder, people will watch your brand closely, so you’ll need to think carefully about everything you do. It takes a long time to repair your brand after negative attention, and any future slip-ups will be noticed. You cannot afford two have two crises in a short space of time.
Stop a Crisis Before it Starts
It’s far harder to repair damage to your brand than it is to simply prevent the damage in the first place. Of course, you can’t control everything that happens online, but you can control what gets said under your own branding. Putting together a social media strategy that will prevent most common social media blunders will keep you ahead of the competition. That strategy should include:
- Password policies for account security.
- The use of HootSuite or other tools, so that you don’t have to share your social media passwords with multiple people (preventing off-brand posts from rogue employees).
- A social media content policy.
- Post vetting, for any posts that could potentially be offensive.
- A clear chain of command for handling complaints and other problematic posts.