Social Media Crisis Communication Best Practices

Social Media Crisis Communication

Crisis-communicationsLet’s face it. No one wants to be the one to have to deal with a crisis situation when it comes up. Whether it’s an unruly customer or an internet troll, this kind of community management just isn’t fun. But, there are steps that can be made to help ensure a smooth crisis communication plan. Here are a few tips to get you started:


  1. Post Community Guidelines: Community Guidelines are a critical element to any good crisis communication plan. You want to make sure that your audience clearly knows and understands the rules for your social media platform. That way, if you ever have someone violating them, you can go back and reference those guidelines and make a plan of action moving forward.
  2. Document your FAQs: Every brand or company has pain points or frequently asked questions that they get on their social. If you’re a food brand it is likely questions about your ingredients, if you are a medical facility maybe it is about insurance. Take the time to make a list of these FAQs. As new questions come in, add them to the document. Eventually you will not be surprised with new questions.
  3. Create Pre-Approved Responses: This one goes hand in hand with #3. Once you have the FAQs and pain points, work on developing some pre-written responses to use as guidelines.  Obviously you don’t want to be so generic as to copy and paste these responses each time you get a question or complaint, but this will be a good place for you to start in a time of need.  It also ensures you’ll remain consistent over time and your team will always be on the same page.
  4. Act Fast: Crisis communication is all about putting out the fire before it spreads.  Make sure you act in a timely manner but don’t rush. Be careful and strategically plan out your response so you don’t make the problem worse.
  5. Get a Professional: Social media crisis communication is not for the faint of heart. You want to make sure you have the right team of people on your side when you need it. A good community manager will know how to deal with a crisis when it comes up.

Crisis communication is an important part of your overall social media strategy. Make sure you have the right steps in place to handle any and all issues that might come your way.

Home Depot Fumbles

Home Depot Fumbles in Advertising

This week Home Depot joined the long list of brands that have posted inappropriate and offensive content on social media. This isn’t the first time someone with poor taste has posted something offensive on social, but this instance is certainly memorable.

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This tweet went on on Thursday. And was promptly removed and followed by an apology.

While the post should’ve never been created in the first place, Home Depot has clearly learned their lesson from the brands that made social media fumbles before them. It was an impressively swift execution of what must’ve been a crisis communication plan already in place. We especially like that they called the tweet “stupid and offensive” because that’s exactly what it was. We appreciate the integrity of the Home Depot Marketing Department for taking a stand.


#RollingStone #CrisisMeltdown

Rolling Stone Lacks a Crisis Communication Plan with Recent Boston Bomber Fiasco

Rolling Stone Features Boston Bomber and Mishandles Crisis Communication PlanDear Rolling Stone,

Wow. For once, this rather outspoken person is a bit speechless. So you decided to push the envelope from edgy to controversial… But you’re biggest mistake was falling off the radar when the nation revolted. Let’s face it – you glorified a domestic terrorist. After 46 years of service, you couldn’t be so naïve to not expect any type of backlash. Quickly take a few minutes out of your day and check out Sarah’s post from last week about using social media as a crisis management tool. As I’m writing this you have almost 8,500 comments on your Facebook page, tied to your August cover, and you have yet to respond, once. Are you that ashamed that you’ve run for the hills?

I’m sure this wasn’t done with ill intent. I would have to believe that your intentions were to not hail The Bomber. At this point, I’m positive you didn’t have any sort of action plan in place to respond to an enraged fan base. That’s why we always make sure that we and our clients are prepared for any situation, simply because THIS is what happens when you aren’t prepared for these types of situations.

Fortunately, we’re here to help. Take Sarah’s advice: “Crisis communication is an incredibly important aspect to your social media marketing. With proper management, you can not only listen to what your customers are saying online, but you can respond with strategic messaging that can help to stop a problem before it happens. If you aren’t implementing a crisis communication plan, you’re already one step behind.”

Instead of hiding, you need to be listening and strategically responding. The absolute worst thing you can do is nothing. What say you, Rolling Stone?

Social Media as a Crisis Management Tool

Crisis Management with Social Media

Social Media for Crisis ManagementOne of the most important, but commonly overlooked aspects of social media marketing is crisis management. A lot of brands have amazing social media presence, but lack a good crisis strategy. When we do social media marketing for a client, we make sure our strategy is completely integrated, and this always includes crisis communication. When managed strategically, social media can be a tool to directly speak with your audience in a time of crisis. So, what is crisis management, and how can social media be used as a strategic management tool?

What is crisis management? Crisis management is any communication plan that is meant to diminish or eliminate potentially damaging messaging that can harm a brand. Crisis communication strategy can be both broad or localized depending on the type of communication needed. Crises can range from smaller issues such as disgruntled customers commenting on Facebook, to full blown meltdowns. Social media is an excellent tool to help implement your crisis communication plan because you can monitor what consumers are saying, and respond directly to them.

How can social media be used as a tool? If you’re using social media, then you know that one post or tweet has the potential to spread like wildfire. Hopefully your consumers are saying good things about your brand, but occasionally you will see negative comments. No brand is immune to this and when it happens, you want to make sure you have the right strategy to respond. Social media is a great way to monitor what people are saying and foresee a problem before it happens. Here at The Cyphers Agency, we do social media crisis management monitoring for our client The National Chicken Council. Food, particularly commodities like chicken, can have several hot topic issues that are frequently talked about. In order to be on top of these potential issues we use a social media monitoring tool Viral Heat for Crisis Communicationcalled Viralheat to “listen” to what constituents are saying and respond if necessary. Viralheat will connect with all of your social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter to Youtube. By entering in specific keywords we can monitor what people are saying, the good and the bad. If we know a particular topic might become an issue, we will enter it as a keyword in Viralheat and watch what people are saying. If we start noticing a trend in negative feedback, we make sure to develop proper messaging to respond. In a lot of cases, constituents are misinformed and it is our job to send them clarifying messaging. Listening to what people are saying on social media can sometimes help us stop a crisis before it becomes a bigger issue.

Crisis communication is an incredibly important aspect to your social media marketing. With proper management, you can not only listen to what your customers are saying online, but you can respond with strategic messaging that can help to stop a problem before it happens. If you aren’t implementing a crisis communication plan, you’re already one step behind.

The Customer Is Always Right… Except When They’re Not

The customer is always right! Always. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. However, we all know that sometimes customers ask for things that you just can’t do. How far do we bend to accommodate them? Is there a point where it’s OK to let a customer go? Or are they always right no matter what wild things come out of their mouth? I recently was faced with this dilemma on one of our client’s Facebook pages.

The client, Better Than Bouillon (BTB) is a brand of food bases that can be used to make soups and other delicious dishes. It’s very good (no really, it is), but it’s not for everyone. A fan named Bobbie posted a link on the BTB wall last week. The link was to a blog post talking about how the ingredients in BTB aren’t natural enough. This put me in the unique position of having a dissatisfied customer who’s request (more natural ingredients) is borderline impossible. BTB can’t just overhaul their entire supply chain and manufacturing process because Bobbie asked for it, no matter how great of a guy Bobbie may be. The “customer-is-always-right” mentality is suddenly at odds with, well, reality.

One of the first things every brand needs to learn is that you can’t please everyone and trying to do so is counter-productive. In this case, I would never succeed in convincing Bobbie that it’s OK to eat processed food. Better Than Bouillon is not unhealthy, but it is a packaged, store-shelf product. There is a demographic of food consumers that simply won’t eat packaged food products no matter how healthy they may be. That’s fine, but these people are not our target market. So this is what I said to Bobbie:

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I was understanding toward his right to not use our product, offered to discuss specifics if he chose to deliberate more and then made a gentle suggestion about another BTB product he might not have been aware of. What I didn’t do was jump into a discussion of the general healthiness of processed food that would likely have been a lose/lose for both of us. It’s tough to acknowledge, but sometimes the best thing a brand can do is be amicable and let a disgruntled customers go.

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.

Social Media in Crisis Communication

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.