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Social Media in Crisis Communication

Picture of Jocelyn Rimbey, Digital Marketing Manager

Jocelyn Rimbey, Digital Marketing Manager

Part of the power of social media marketing is its real-time nature. Things happen quickly and often. While that is mostly a positive thing, it can turn negative in a time of crisis. Unfortunately, bad news travels faster than good and can spread like wildfire across the Internet.

An online crisis can be small or large. It can come in reaction to a customer complaint that goes viral or it can result from a national fear that affects consumption behavior (think swine flu). Either way, companies can use the very nature of social media to alleviate those complaints or those fears.

1. Create a Plan, Keep it Updated

The number one key to handling an online crisis is to have a plan in place before anything ever happens. While we can hope that nothing will ever go wrong, the reality is that it probably will. Being prepared will help you combat any issues in a professional and timely manner.

So how do you prepare? Think of all potential problems that might occur. Will someone post negative comments on a review site? Are there consumers who might complain about your services or products on Facebook? Do people take to Twitter to vent about any mishaps they’ve experienced? Will there be an issue offline that can be addressed on your social networks? Knowing what potential issues you might have will come in handy when they actually do happen.

For each issue that you foresee potential problems, come up with proper responses. Language is key: how do you want to sound or come across? In the midst of a crisis, we can sometimes be blinded by panic, anxiety, or stress, so predetermining your responses will help you keep your composure under fire.

2. Determine a Point Person

Part of crisis communication is determining a response point person. At the agency level, we are put in a unique situation where we often act on behalf of our clients. While this is sometimes the best option, there are also times where we can’t answer questions or address concerns. Deciding who will respond in times of crisis is imperative. How much responsibility will the agency have in responding? Who, within that agency, is given responsibility to respond? Will you need to contact someone on the client or corporate level? Lay this out before hand, so that there isn’t confusion as to who the responder will be.

3. Establish an Audience

While this point may not always be possible, part of crisis communication is being able to actually communicate with the specific audience dealing with the problem. While some crises may be unforeseeable, certain social networks can house groups that are the perfect audience. For example, we work with The National Chicken Council to run the Chicken Facebook page. With over 26,000 fans, this page is the perfect place to correct misgivings about things like avian flu.

Having a plan is one step, but actually reaching your audience with your message is another. Building up social networks and gaining a following can help relieve a crisis should it happen.

4. React

When the time comes, react. Having an established plan allows for a timely response. Don’t wait to alleviate the problem; nip it in the bud before it can escalate or grow larger. Follow your plan, don’t panic, and remain professional.

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