social media crisis managementNot every organization will face a crisis. From offensive social media posts to offline crises, such as data breaches, a simple mistake can immediately place a company squarely in the spotlight.

Many of the countless high-profile social media crises of the past several years surround poor employee or managerial judgement. This can include employees who fail to sign out of corporate social media accounts before sending politically-fueled Tweets, or severely mismanaged layoffs. Other times, a lack of sensitivity or appropriate hashtag research is to blame.

Even if you feel your staff and management are impervious to making high-profile mistakes, you still need to consider how you’ll proceed if you find yourself in a crisis. If all eyes are on you, what should you say, and how should you say it?

Also, here’s a bit of a disclaimer before we proceed. Corporate crises are pretty tenuous territory, and the most important recommendation we can offer is make a plan ahead of time that’s approved by your organization’s counsel and risk management team.

1. Have a Documented Plan

Do your employees know what constitutes a crisis? If you receive a highly negative comment at 9pm on a Friday night, what is your policy on escalating issues to management? Your documentation should address all of these issues and much more.

While it’s relatively likely that your organization will never have to deal with a truly enormous crisis like a large-scale data breach or high-profile employee arrest, you will encounter quite a few situations that require your employees to make judgement calls.

While the specific ins and outs of your plan will vary significantly according to your corporate structure, it should address the following concepts at a minimum:

  • Comment deletion/dealing with trolls

  • Crisis escalation, who to contact, and when

  • Appropriate procedure for negative comments and customer service queries

  • Chain of command and point-of-contact for emergencies

  • When to “turn off” scheduled posts

2. Be Sincere

The absolute worst thing your organization can do when it comes to negative comments on social media is commit the cardinal sin of copy and paste. It makes you seem like you’re simply doing the bare minimum, instead of investing effort in restoring damaged relationships.

When Applebee’s controversially fired a waitress over posting a receipt on Facebook, negative comments soon covered the brand’s social media page. Applebee’s provided an in-depth response to each comment, but only had one, canned statement to provide, which is depicted below:

social media crisis

Asking your risk management team or legal counsel to provide specific guidelines on content for appropriate responses is certainly key, but it’s far better to personalize your responses to concerned clients.

3. Monitor Social Media

If your crisis or brand are big enough, there will be plenty of conversations occurring about your brand online. You might not be formally invited to participate in all of these conversations, but that’s not to say that you shouldn’t offer feedback.

Sabra Hummus recently experienced a large-scale recall of their products due to health and safety concerns. The brand took to Twitter actively, monitoring mentions of their brand name, and actively responded to concerned customers to offer fact-based commentary:

social media crisis

Depending on the scale and scope of your social media crisis, active participation and response to Twitter commentary can be a critical tool for rumor control. By enlisting extra marketing team members for social media monitoring, you could ensure conversations are kept under wraps.

4. Be Slightly Self-Deprecating

A stiffly worded corporate apology can sometimes be the right solution. In other cases, it isn’t. When a social media employee at the Red Cross accidentally posted her plans to enjoy an evening out on the town to the nonprofit’s Twitter account, a little bit of humor was appropriate. Since far more people were amused than seriously offended by this innocent mistake, Red Cross humorously tweeted that they’d “confiscated the keys:”

social media crisis

5. Understand Crises are Dynamic

The most critical action your organization can take if you find yourself suffering some serious scrutiny isn’t to stick to a plan like it’s doctrine. It’s to take a more fluid approach to navigating the choppy waters of a crisis.

There are crises that make a small splash, and there are crises that are talked about for years. Many of the most-remembered crises and corporate missteps surround an organization’s inability to handle the situation correctly. A lack of apology isn’t something that consumers easily forget, and getting defensive in the midst of heat can quickly make a situation spiral out of control.

If your company is actively dealing with a major situation, form a “command center” that’s directed largely by your professional risk management resources. Take an agile approach, and continually evaluate the sentiment of conversations surrounding your brand. Your crisis management plan should help your followers “cool off,” not incite anger in anyone.

Has your organization created a plan for dealing with a large-scale social media crisis? Share your stance – and recommendations –  in the comments!