Crisis Communications and the Power of Social Media

If you’ve been around in business over the past five years, you already know that it is imperative for your brand to have an online presence on the social media stage.  If you’re just now joining the social media scene, you will soon learn that social media isn’t just for teenagers or a way to connect with friends; it has an incredible amount of power that you can use to your brand’s advantage.  Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned pro, it’s especially important to know how to harness the power of social media in the event you have a communications crisis.

It’s bound to happen: an angry customer posts a less than positive comment on your Facebook page, an ugly Tweet goes viral or perhaps a situation at your headquarters creates a frenzy of negative press.  No matter what happens, in the event of a situation like one of these, you will need to act quickly and in a world where breaking news is old news five minutes after it occurs, social media can become your best friend.

Have a good team. If you have an experienced agency with a team of A-List social media experts, such as The Cyphers Agency’s Push-n-Pull team on your side, then you needn’t worry and we will fight the good fight for you.  We’re equipped with years of experience and plenty of computers to ensure that we don’t miss a beat.  But while we might be able to tweet in our sleep, we recognize that it’s not second nature to the rest of the universe.  Consider this your personal guide to the basics of crisis communication management in social media.

Build relationships. It is essential to continually build relationships with your users long before (and after) you think a crisis might occur.  By having the support and foundation of a community of believers, you have an immediate support network in place.  Granted, some will probably desert you in a time of tension, but others will stand behind you in the midst of an emergency, helping to relieve the negative sentiment and emotions of other audience members.

Create a social media policy. Again, this is something that should already be established and function as the foundation of conducting your business online through social media.  Having a policy will help you set the tone, voice and messaging basics that are easy and quick to implement when you need to act in a stressful and time-sensitive situation.

Clear, concise, consistent messaging across all communication platforms. No crisis or emergency is really ever planned.  But when one does happen, there’s an immediate flurry of activity.  In the midst of that, ensure you gather your communications experts and establish a single, clear and concise message that you will deliver across all of your communications platforms, including social media.  Doing so will ensure you spread a common message with the same tone and voice across all channels, keeping your brand consistent and your customers informed.  Last spring, a rogue tweet from a Red Cross employee was accidentally sent via the Red Cross’s Twitter account and not the employee’s personal account.   The organization quickly responded to the situation through its social media platforms with a short and concise message, with even a bit of good-humor.  While the situation wasn’t swept under the rug, it was handled swiftly and properly, allowing the organization to get back to business.

Pick and choose your battles. Think of your social media platforms as an extension of the customer service department.  Sometimes a customer is intent on just being angry.  Keep a cool head and try to distinguish the legitimate complaints and concerns that you can help resolve and engage those customers, rather than spending time or energy on someone who just wants complain.

Act quickly within the first 24 hours. The first 24 hours of an emergency or crisis are crucial in establishing the image and providing the information your customers can expect from you in the midst of the turmoil.  Whether it’s a natural disaster or an image/brand crisis, be ready to respond and make a public message to ensure your customers that you are aware of the situation and working towards a resolution.   When BP found itself in the midst of the Deep Horizon drilling incident in the spring of 2011, it took one full week for the oil company to make any official statement on social media.  The company lost not only its credibility in how it handled the situation from a communications perspective, but it also lost a considerable number of consumers because of their failure to act.

Many organizations that have successfully handled communications crises through social media in the past use decision trees help simplify the process.  The key to remember is that in the event of a crisis, keeping your trusted customers informed should be a priority.  Push out information as soon as you can and keep them up-to-date; your customers will appreciate the personal effort and respect you show them.  So next time you think tweets are for teenagers or Facebook is just a place to find old friends, think again because it could just be the tool you use to save your business and your brand.

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