Just imagine: you have to recall one of your most popular products, your website “rollover” turns into a two-day outage; a fire damages your regional distribution center.
Crises like these do happen.
And when they do, the company’s usual crisis communications plan — the one you used three years ago when the CEO had a heart attack — is rolled out and manoeuvred into position. You know the drill: PR meets with top management, then drafts a tight-lipped statement. A frowning woman from legal goes over your letter to distributors with a red pen, removing any shred of apology.
From the point of view of the marketing team, about the only thing that could make this scenario more out-of-date is a horse and buggy.
In the past few years, major corporations with cutting-edge social media programs have demonstrated, again and again, that savvy use of social media channels during a crisis can make a world of difference. A crisis is a company’s opportunity to show that, whatever the details of the situation, you understand your customers’ pain, are working hard to fix things, and have someone available to respond to their questions. Five years ago, you might have been able to retreat into a bunker and hope the press would be distracted by some other company’s news. That’s not possible today when concerned or inconvenienced customers — and their customers — can easily fill the Twitterverse and the blogosphere with a litany of complaints and blame.
As owners of a company’s social media tools, the marketing department can play a critical role in making (or breaking) crisis communications. Here are some guidelines:
1. Social Media Crisis Communications Strategy
Long before any crisis occurs, draft a simple social media crisis communications strategy and get it approved by your company’s senior management. The time to sell it to them is before a crisis happens. Use examples of how major companies have used social media channels to manage a crisis — or what happened when they didn’t.
2. If a Crisis Occurs, Move Fast
Have one member of your social media team update the company website while someone else handles Twitter and Facebook. When updating the website, don’t just update News and the blog. If you have pages selling particular products or services that are affected by the crisis, put notes on those pages to indicate that you are aware of the crisis and addressing it. Let people know where to go, or who to email or call, for further information.
3. Don’t Focus on Blame and What Happened
For one thing, your legal team may not allow that. Focus on what’s going to happen, and how that will impact your customers. Frankly, they don’t care why a fire damaged your warehouse. They just want to know when what they ordered from you is going to arrive, and who they can call or email to track that shipment.
4. Set Up a Hotline, a Call Center
Or an email-based system to handle individual situations for distributors and customers affected by the crisis. If there’s a temporary process you want people to use, post a step-by-step description of it on your website (if you can do it on video, put it up on YouTube). Then use your website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter to advertise those solutions and direct customer questions to them. The more people are able to communicate with your company privately, the less likely they are to vent publicly.
5. Monitor Industry News Sites
And forums where there may be discussion of your company’s crisis. If appropriate, join the discussions to point people to your call center or online solutions. Again, avoid blaming or providing details of what happened. Say “We’ll post more when we have details. If you’re a customer, please call our hotline.”
6. Use Your Social Media Channels
To thank partners and distributors who are helping you serve customers, to thank employees working long hours to deal with the emergency and to tell the stories of how you are working with affected customers.
Check out Oktopost, a great tool for B2B social media management