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Featured Story | Written by James Hayward
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Social Media for Crisis Management: What to do and what not to do.

Crisis management - where do you start? We’ve come up with a few helpful do’s and don’ts to help you manage it all in the best way possible.

2 Oct - 10 min read

When the worst happens...

So, the worst has happened. You’re sitting in front of your computer with a hundred unread messages blinking at you across all your brand channels, the phones are ringing off the hook, and your CEO has just come over to your desk to find out “what’s happening on Twitter?” This is the moment every social media manager dreads – a crisis brewing right before your eyes, gathering momentum like a hurricane. 

Where do you start? We’ve come up with a few helpful do’s and don’ts to help you manage it all in the best way possible. 

Things you should do

Listen – We’ve already blogged about the many benefits of social media monitoring, and crisis avoidance is pretty high up the list. Using a tool such as Orlo, you can set up alerts around your brand name and get notified when things start to escalate. Make sure you have an out of hours rota or policy in place, with contact details of who will deal with the fallout.

Plan, plan, plan – the truth is, if you work in social media, you’re likely to face a couple of social media crises throughout your career. And if you’re managing social for a large brand, this might happen often. Be prepared, and get the following tools ready:

  • Your crisis flowchart. Define who in your organisation should be contacted in different crisis scenarios. This will most likely include customer service and PR teams and it may also involve senior management, product, health and safety or legal. Don’t forget to include up-to-date contact information for all key individuals. Decide not only who will agree on the appropriate messaging, but how this will be cascaded to all customer-facing and relevant members of staff.
  • Your list of potential crises and relevant pre-approved messaging. This might sound like tempting fate, but it’s a really good idea to get your stakeholders together and draw up a list of potential crises. Determine roughly what would be your response and messaging in each case. When your crisis happens, you’ll at least have some guidelines on how to respond so you’re not totally winging it.
  • Your resources. Your plan should also cover practical details, such as how to bring in more staff to help if needed. Perhaps you can train people in different departments, in case you need more hands on deck. You could even specify a dedicated “war room”, where the response team would meet to agree on messaging and handle the crisis. All of these details should be covered in your plan. 

If you haven’t got a crisis plan yet, add this to your to-do list after you’ve finished reading this blog. It’s tempting to put it off, but making time for it will pay dividends in the long run. 

Respond quickly – You won’t want to put out a knee-jerk reaction to the issue in question, but you can at least empower your customer-facing teams with a first and early acknowledgement of the issue. It will give your customer / complainer a sense that they are being listened to, and it will help your teams on the front-line to feel like they’re able to do something. It will also give the impression that you’ve got things under control (even if you’re actually making panicked calls to legal). A simple “thank you for your message – it’s being looked into right now” is better than nothing, and buys a little time while the issue is escalated to the right response team. 

Pause all scheduled posts – Once you’ve established that you’re in the throes of a social media crisis, make sure to pause all outbound posts. Pushing out unrelated messages will either look like you’re unaware of the brewing crisis, you don’t care about it, or you’re trying to drown it out by pushing the issue further down your feed. None of these options are going to win you friends, or make the crisis go away. If anything, they are more likely to make things worse.

Things you should not do

Panic – Breathe. It might seem overwhelming, and even personal, but freaking out will only lose you time. Do not veer away from your crisis plan. Do not reply in the heat of the moment with an emotional response. Remember that you are representing your brand, and that angry customers could take screenshots of your “less-than-thought-through” response and use it as fuel to feed the crisis.

Go off channel – Crises should be dealt with swiftly within the channel they play out on. That is to say, if someone complains on your Facebook wall then you must respond right there. Don’t try to send people off to a “safe space” like your website, or fob them off with a link to a press release. 

Also, try not to push out messages out piecemeal across your social channels. Use threads to keep information about the developing crisis together, and clearly mark updates so it’s easy to follow.

Silence the haters – This is the biggest mistake in the “social media crisis” book. Unless it’s offensive or libellous, trying to delete, hide, or silence someone’s negative comment is really tempting, but it’s never recommended. Take a lesson from Easyjet’s attempt to move a complaint about alleged “backless seats” to DM, which really did not go down well. Check out the tweet here.

Common sense

As always, using real life principles is really helpful when dealing with a social media crisis. You wouldn’t drown out someone’s complaint by shouting over them, and the same goes for social media. Once something is public, nothing you can do will make it disappear. The best way to handle it is to acknowledge it, and be totally transparent in your reaction and next steps. You must accept that you might not be able to make everyone happy, but that your defined plan will result in the best outcome for your organisation. Each crisis also comes with an opportunity to learn – about your product, your customers, and even your ability to deal with a crisis. Turning it into a positive will do wonders for your strategy, not to mention your sanity. Now don’t forget to go and make that plan.

James Hayward, Client Success Manager at Orlo, has a wealth of experience in managing customer service teams, helping organisations drive continual value for their service users, and using his creative and analytical skills to determine key areas for revenue growth. In his spare time, James loves to travel, study new languages, their history and culture.

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