From natural disasters to employee and client incidents, a crisis can strike at any time. For businesses and nonprofits alike, taking proactive measures to ensure a timely and effective response when the need strikes is critical. Here are some tips to help prepare for and manage a social crisis.
Assemble a crisis response team
As part of your crisis communications plan, it is important to identify which team members will assume various responsibilities when a crisis occurs. This team should include not only senior leadership and boots-on-the-ground crisis managers, but individuals who can assume responsibility for managing crisis communications, including social media. Your crisis response team should include legal counsel, a company spokesperson, an individual who is responsible for messaging, someone who can update and monitor social media platforms – as well as traditional media, and a gatekeeper to field any incoming phone calls. Each member of the team should have a clearly defined role and list of responsibilities.
Know the risks to which you are exposed and their likelihood of occurrence
Every company and cause is unique, as are the crises they are most susceptible to. While natural disasters can impact every industry (which was evident in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy) there are other potential crises that are industry- and audience-specific. When developing a crisis communications plan, create a list of the top five potential crises or risks your organization may face and anticipate how those might play out. Once the list has been developed, rank in likelihood of occurrence. Lastly, draft foundational messages for your most likely threats which can be customized per incident. This should be developed and shared with appropriate team members so everyone is on the same page if an incident occurs.
What to do when a crisis occurs
Ensuring consistent and timely communication across your internal crisis response team is key when disaster strikes. This will help to ensure all parties are executing on the plan that has been put in place and minimize the likelihood of inconsistent communications or miscommunications.
As social media has in many ways become a “go-to” for updates when breaking news occurs, it is important that these communication channels are being monitored consistently and that an appropriate level of communications are being shared with online audiences. When managing a crisis on social media, keep these best practices top-of-mind.
- If you need to remove a comment because of profanity or statements that are factually inaccurate post a statement on your page explaining why it was removed. Emotions run high during times of crisis and transparency is key to keeping audiences well-informed and maintaining trust in your brand.
- Know when to take the conversation off line. Respond publicly and acknowledge the concern as a first step and then take it offline.
- If an issue is widespread / the organization has made a mistake, disclose the actions taken in response (as appropriate) to show you are actively addressing the situation and treating it with a proper degree of seriousness. It is also important to share the steps the organization is taking to prevent a future occurrence.
- A timely response is critical to mitigating the spread of misinformation and preventing the situation from escalating. During a crisis, both media and social media should be consistently monitored and managed in real-time.
Don’t wait for a crisis to occur
It is important to monitor social media on an ongoing basis to make sure that there isn’t any negative commentary that needs to be addressed. Even if your brand is not active on a particular platform, it should still be monitored for negative brand mentions. When searching for references include any common misspellings of the organization’s name and its key executives.
Monitoring online review sites (i.e. Yelp) is also critical. Set up Google Alerts to be proactively alerted to brand mentions online in real time (note: will not pick up everything).
Ensuring your company or cause has an up-to-date crisis communications plan in place can help to minimize damage to your brand’s reputation when a crisis occurs. By being both proactive and strategic, companies and causes can lay the foundation for effective crisis communications that educate and inform while managing stakeholders’ concerns.