Convince and Convert: Social Media Consulting and Content Marketing Consulting

Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared – How to Manage a Social Media Crisis

This is probably the most important blog post you’ll never need. Drawn from a section of my book The NOW Revolution, I gave this presentation about social media crisis recovery recently as part of the Social Media Success Summit 2012.

One of the keys to successful social media crisis mitigation is pre-crisis planning. This is lifeguard mode, and there are four elements of it.

Buy Some Binoculars
It’s hard to deal with a crisis you can’t find. You need some sort of social media listening software in your organization. See this post on the 5 Categories of Social Media Software for some options.

Set a Listening Protocol
That software, however, is only good as its operator. You must have a listening protocol in your organization. Who is listening to the social Web? When are they listening? For what are they listening? Who is covering nights and weekends?

Know What Is and What Is Not a Crisis
Somebody sending a mean tweet about your company doesn’t constitute a crisis. There are three characteristics of a true social media crisis. If these three happen, you’re in crisis mode.

Use an Internal Alert and Response Flowchart
Not all crises have the same response teams. The more acute the issue, the more senior the responder. Create a crisis flowchart that specifies who in your organization should be contacted in different scenarios. Make certain that your front lines social media and customer service personnel keep detailed, up-to-date contact information (including home phone) for all executives.

This is also where – depending on the size and complexity of your organization – you may want to work with legal to map out some processes and pre-approved messaging. Crisis role-playing and fire drills are exceptionally useful, too.

You’ve completed your lifeguard training. Now what happens when a crisis occurs?

In Case of Overwhelming Negativity, Break Glass

Here are the 8 steps to successfully managing a social media crisis.

1. Acknowledge
Your first response should always be “yes, we realize something has happened” even if you have ZERO answers. This will stem the tide of “hey company, did you know?” messages.

2. Fight Social Media Fire With Social Media Water
Once you have some information, you should respond first in the venue where the crisis first broke. If the crisis initiated on Facebook, respond first on Facebook. Then circle around and respond in other venue that have picked up on the crisis.

Kellogg’s failed on this point in April, 2012 during a Facebook-fueled crisis about the soy ingredients of their Kashi brand. Kashi responded to the crisis with a YouTube video, which got no traction whatsoever. A live, streaming video response on their Facebook page would have been a much better balm.

You never know where a crisis will break, however, so you must have presences in every social outpost, even if you’re not routinely participating there. For example, are you ready for a Pinterest crisis? It could happen.

It probably goes without saying, but speed matters. What we ask our clients at Convince & Convert is simple, yet difficult. “Can you get a video online from your CEO within 4 hours, any time of the day or night, from anywhere in the world?” If the answer is no, you aren’t fully prepared.

3. Be Sorry
America is the land of forgiveness. We’ve forgiven Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton, Exxon, Tylenol, and a rogue’s gallery of corporate and individual miscreants and near do wells. You’ll be forgiven too, if you say you’re sorry and mean it.

4. Create a Crisis FAQ
Create a Web page or microsite and put all the information about the crisis in one place. This allows you to respond to questions with a link instead of an answer. This saves times and prevents misinterpretation of your responses (especially on Twitter).

This Crisis FAQ should include:

5. Build a Pressure Relief Valve
This may be counterintuitive, but you WANT people to vent on a venue you control. Whether it’s your Facebook page, blog, forum, or comments section on your Crisis FAQ microsite, you want ire to accumulate on your turf. There are four benefits to this approach:

If you do not proactively provide a pressure relief valve, complainants will create their own, giving you no recourse or control whatsoever.

To their credit, Penn State University used their Facebook wall as a pressure relief valve during the height of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, allowing hundreds of angry comments to be posted. But, because it was on their Facebook page, they could see, find, moderate (as necessary), and answer back. Smart.

6. Know When to Take it Offline
Social media crisis management isn’t about winning, it’s about damage control. Some people will be angry enough that you’re not going to convince them of anything.

Do not get in an online tit for tat, ever (and certainly not in a crisis scenario). Keyboards embolden us all, and sometimes the best course of action is to offer your phone number or email address, and encourage the troll to contact you that way. Will it take the kettle off boil? Sometimes, but even if it doesn’t the rest of the community sees that you went the extra mile and provided an olive branch. That matters. Crisis management is a spectator sport.

Remember the rule of 3. Never send a third reply. A third reply is an argument, not an answer. On the third reply, you take it offline.

7. Arm Your Army
We know where everyone works, because it’s listed on their Facebook and Linkedin profiles. If you wanted more information about the Kashi crisis, would you call their corporate communications department and wait on hold, or would you go to Linkedin and find ANYONE at Kellogg’s to whom you had a connection. Bingo! Call centers and waiting on hold is for suckers, and every employee is a potential spokesperson.

That’s why it’s imperative that you keep ALL employees informed about the crisis.Whether it’s email, text message, internal blog, Yammer (or similar) you must keep your employees at least as knowledgeable as the public.

8. Learn Your Lessons
After the crisis subsides, and you’ve dried the tears off your laptop, reconstruct and deconstruct the crisis. Document every facet:

There you have it. The social media crisis management playbook than I hope you never need. If you’d like to put a customized crisis plan together for your company, let me know. We can help.

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