how to manage a social media crisis

The worst time to start planning for a crisis is when you’re
in the middle of one. Pre-crisis planning is key to successful
social media crisis mitigation. This is lifeguard mode,
and there are three elements to it.

1. Buy Some Binoculars — Set Up a Listening Program

It’s hard to deal with a crisis you can’t find. You can
most effectively monitor conversations and stay aware of crises
with a
social media listening
tool, but you can also monitor chatter
by setting up keyword searches and Google Alerts. 

Technology is only good as its operators. You must have a
listening protocol in your organization
. Who is listening to
social? When are they listening? For what are they listening? Who
is covering nights and weekends?

2. Know What Is and Is Not a Crisis

Somebody sending a mean tweet or two about your company
doesn’t constitute a crisis. When the volume of public
outcry starts gaining speed like a boulder down a mountain before
your company has a chance to gather its druthers, then its time to
activate crisis mode. When identifying a crisis, here are three
things to watch for: 

A social media crisis is a decisive change from the

Nike and Chick-Fil-A are routinely criticized for company
ethics; however, social chatter about that is ongoing and expected.
That’s not a crisis. When a markedly different line of criticism
occurs, that’s the first marker of a social media crisis.

A social media crisis has a potentially material impact on
the company overall

Somebody tweeting about how Subway left mustard off his or her
sandwich isn’t a crisis. Consistent reports of food poisoning
from Subway is. Scope and scale are the second marker of a social
media crisis.

A social media crisis can indirectly impact more than one

When weather events occur or breaking news happens, companies
are forced into reacting to a crisis situation to which they
didn’t contribute. Having a plan in place allows them to be ready
to respond when the moments really count. When the company does not
know any more than the public about what’s going on, that’s
information asymmetry – the third marker of a social media

3. 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 line social
media and customer service personnel keep detailed, up-to-date,
contact information (including home phones) 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?

Here are the 9 steps to successfully managing a social media

1. Pause All Outbound Messages

If there’s even a hint of a crisis or public storm building,
immediately pause all scheduled content queued to post your social
media channels. Notify any social care representatives to shift
to monitor-only mode. This can prevent their innocent attempts to
respond before the company is ready to make a statement. 

2. Acknowledge An Issue

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, and
give the response team a chance to activate and gather information.
Respond in the place where the crisis first occurs. If it starts
on Facebook, post your first response to Facebook.
determine where to go next. 

3. Create a Crisis FAQ

Determine where will be the focal point for all communications
about the crisis. Create a landing page or microsite on the
website, or designate a single social media channel 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). Update all bio links to point to the
crisis FAQ.

This Crisis FAQ should include:

  • Acknowledgement of the crisis
  • Details about the occurrence
  • Photos and/or videos, if available
  • How the company found out
  • Who was alerted, when, and how
  • Specific actions taken in response
  • Real or potential effects
  • Steps taken to prevent future occurrence
  • Contact information for real people at the company

It probably goes without saying, but speed matters. What we ask
our clients here 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

4. Start Responding in Social Media

Once the information is collected and a central FAQ hub is
designated, its time to roll up the sleeves and let people know
you’re in for the long haul. Publish to all active social media
accounts a post that identifies:

  • Summarize the situation 
  • An immediate call to action 
  • Point to FAQ hub for further updates 
  • Include relevant hashtags to help disseminate info 
  • Link or include safety tips or checklists, if applicable
  • Estimated time of interruption or event

Use boosted posts or paid amplification if its necessary for the
post to reach specific audiences ASAP. Choose a limited duration ad
or boost to reach the maximum amount of people in as little time as

As the crisis continues, keep updated posts together in
social media.
Use Twitter threads to connect new posts to old
posts, and use hashtags consistently to spread the messages
broadly. Update existing posts (from the top down) rather than
create new posts on Facebook. Use Instagram Stories rather than the
main feed to show progress over time.

5. Use Visual Signals that Inform

Use visuals and graphics along with words to signal a change in
standard operating procedure. These images can be deployed across
social media accounts as a secondary way to keep audiences
informed. Display names on Twitter and Instagram are easy to
change. So are profile and cover images.
When tragedy struck on
a Southwest Airlines flight after an engine explosion,
updated all social media profile images to a
simple white or gray icon. It was a powerful cue; one that was done
in relative silence.  

6. 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

  • It allows you to keep more of the conversations about the
    crisis in a single venue, making them easier to track.
  • It’s an early warning detection system for new dimensions of
    the crisis.
  • It gives your customers an official place to come to your
    defense (sometimes).
  • When your turf is the conversational boxing ring, you set the

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.

penn state social media crisis

7. Remember the response rule of 2

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). Crisis management is a spectator sport. The
Hug Your Haters response rule of 2
is to respond only twice,
publicly. Give the agitator two responses, but no more. This
demonstrates to anyone watching that you attempted to engage in a
productive, constructive way, but also knew when to walk away. Move
conversations that are likely to be resolved to an offline channel
(direct message, email, phone) after the second response. 

8. 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 Southwest Airlines crisis, would you call their corporate
communications department and wait on hold, or would you go to
Linkedin and find ANYONE at Southwest 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
. Whether it’s email, text message, internal blog,
Slack or similar, you must keep your employees at least as
knowledgeable as the public.

  • It allows you to keep more of the conversations about the
    crisis in a single venue, making them easier to track.
  • It’s an early warning detection system for new dimensions of
    the crisis.
  • It gives your customers an official place to come to your
    defense (sometimes).
  • When your turf is the conversational boxing ring, you set the

9. Learn Your Lessons

After the crisis subsides, and you’ve dried the tears off your
laptop, reconstruct and deconstruct the crisis. Document every

  • Make copies of all tweets, status updates, blog comments,
  • Make copies of all emails
  • Analyze website traffic patterns
  • Analyze search volume patterns
  • Where did the crisis break, and when? Where did it spread, and
  • How did your internal notification work?
  • How did your response protocol work?
  • Did specific customers rise to your defense? (thank them!)
  • Were your employees informed?
  • How did the online crisis intersect with offline coverage (if

There you have it. The social media crisis management
that 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.

The post
Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared – How to Manage a Social Media
appeared first on Convince and Convert: Social
Media Consulting and Content Marketing Consulting

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