Social media is the double-edged sword of crisis management. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be an essential communication tool for effectively managing a crisis—but they can also make a crisis worse than ever if they are not used strategically.
For organizations like yours, social media has the power to become one of your most impactful crisis communication tools. However, the nature of the medium means that it has to be handled carefully. Only a strategic approach to social media crisis management will enable you to harness its potential while ensuring it works for you and not against you.
Let’s take a closer look at the ways in which organizations can handle crisis management through social media, as well as some key faux pas to avoid when using these tools in a crisis.
An Ideal Tool for Crisis Communication
Having an effective crisis management plan in place can have a huge impact on how well your organization weathers a crisis. We see this play out all the time: for example, how United Airlines handled its reputation crisis after law enforcement officers dragged a passenger off a flight. The way in which an individual or a company communicates with the public, its customers, and other stakeholders after a crisis truly matters. And it could make or break your business.
In the past, when a crisis hit your organization, you would first issue a press release. Your crisis management plan would include draft statements that could be tailored to the specific situation.
Today, crisis management inevitably involves social media, whether you are a large multi-national corporation or a small hometown business. When a crisis occurs—whether it’s negative publicity, a product recall, or an inaccurate news story going viral—social media should be the first place you turn.
Why? The nature of social media makes it ideal for communicating quickly and effectively in our digital age. Communication on social media is near-instantaneous, so it gets your message out right away—much faster than a press release would.
Plus, most of your customers are already on social media. An estimated 70 percent of Americans use one or more of the top sites (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn), and most are visiting at least once a day. These platforms give you a chance to take your message directly to the people you’re trying to reach.
Social media allows you to quickly and effectively speak directly to your customers. As a result, you’re in a much better position to guide the conversation following a crisis. You’re not playing catch-up, as United was after customers posted cell-phone video of the passenger being removed from his flight. By the time the airline issued a response, it was already seen as the bad guy. However, by “getting out ahead” of a crisis, you have an opportunity to give your side of the story; to issue apologies when necessary; and to help guide the dialogue in a more positive, productive direction.
Mistakes to Avoid
As you plan to harness the potential of social media, however, remember the double-edged sword. The fact that social media is instantaneous, and news travels so quickly, among so many people, also means that the stakes are high.
This isn’t like issuing a press release with a typo or misquote and then having to resend it. Once you share information on Facebook, Twitter, and so on, the news is out. You should assume that anything posted on social media can be seen and shared forever. Even if a tweet or post is deleted, it may have already been screen-shotted by countless followers.
As you update your crisis management plan to include social media, consider adding a best practices section that helps your team avoid the following common mistakes:
- Slow or delayed response. News and opinions travel quickly on social media, so you need to be equipped to respond to a crisis immediately. Otherwise, an information vacuum can form and be filled with people’s criticisms and speculation about your company. If your social media team is small, consider investing in monitoring software that can help your team stay on top of negative comments, viral stories, and brand mentions.
- Public squabbles. They say that everyone is a critic online, which can make it easy for tensions to flare. Coach your team to respond to social media followers in a way that is polite, truthful, and on brand. If someone starts posting inflammatory or outright false statements, it might be time to block the user or reach out to him or her directly. A rule of thumb is to take a conversation “offline,” whether in a private message, email, or phone call, after a few attempts at civil conversation.
- Being caught unprepared. During your planning efforts, take the time to draft some key social media messages to have on hand when the next crisis hits. You can tweak the content for the specific situation when it occurs, but having at least a framework response will save time and energy when it matters most. Remember—your people are probably going to be stressed when a crisis hits, so predrafting statements that are on brand, calm, and respectful can help strike the right tone for your response.
In our fast-moving digital age, organizations of all kinds and in all industries have started to leverage crisis management through social media to encourage a faster, more streamlined crisis response. As companies increasingly rely on mobile technology to optimize their crisis management efforts, consider the ways in which your business could benefit by strategically using social media during your next crisis.