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What you need to know to build a solid crisis management plan

You have a social media crisis on your hands. Do you know what to do next?

If your answer is not a confident “Yes”, then it’s time to update, review, or maybe even create a crisis management plan that can help your business sail as smoothly as possible when the waters get choppy.

To achieve that, you have to think through the possible situations that might come up and have plans to follow if (or when) they arise. In this article, we discuss several strategies for preparing for and dealing with a crisis so that you can feel ready and able to tackle whatever challenges might come your way, and minimize crises while it is still early.

What is crisis management?

When a business crisis arises, either due to something the company itself did or because of external factors like hacks or things outside of the company’s control, the situation needs to be handled and addressed immediately by the company. 

Put simply, that is what crisis management is about. Although, it goes much deeper.

For one thing, one of the most important steps to crisis management is preparing ahead of time, well before anything has even gone wrong. Knowing that you need to have a plan is critical, because trying to react in the middle of a business crisis might just make things worse. 

Let’s look at some of the questions to answer and the steps to take to draft a crisis management plan.

Drafting a crisis management plan

These are some of the critical components that should be addressed when determining your social media crisis management plan:

What constitutes a crisis?

Your company’s Facebook page has received 10 negative user posts in 30 minutes; is that a crisis?

This is where context matters, and your social media management team is the frontline for determining the next steps. If all of those comments are about something completely different, it’s worth monitoring but probably not something that needs to be quickly flagged and elevated.

However, if they are all about the same issue or product failure, or they are all reactions after recently seeing your company in the news, then you could have something bigger on your hands.

Remember, a social media manager is also a reputation manager. If your business handles customer service through social media, then a big part of their role is the day-to-day reputation management that will help customers and potential customers feel good about your company when they search for you.

However, social media managers are not always crisis managers. As such, the task of solving bigger issues does not rest on their shoulders alone. Part of your plan needs to spell out situations that are (and are not) a crisis. This will help your social media management team know when they are expected to bring things to management’s attention, and when they should move forward as they normally would with their review management efforts.

Not all crises are created equal

Related to the above point, not every crisis requires all hands on deck. Within your plan, have different action plans for various levels of crises.

For example, if there are a lot of negative comments about a specific product, perhaps a company statement about that product is required. However, that does not necessarily mean that the whole C-suite needs to be notified.

The bigger the crisis, the more time and human capital is necessary to address it. As such, it is ideal to have plans for crises of different scales, such as ones that require fewer people for smaller issues, so that not everyone is pulled in when they do not necessarily need to be.

Many social media crises arise because there was a failure to successfully resolve social media issues. While not the same as a full-blown business crisis, social media crises should be taken seriously.

Avoid turning a social media issue into a social media crisis

Set guidelines for when a social media issue has evolved into a social media crisis. Spend sufficient time training your social media management team on what constitutes a crisis and inform them of the necessary steps for resolving the issue.

Resolution of sensitive topics or negative sentiment

Determine what topics your brand defines as sensitive, and which are considered negative sentiment.

Sensitive issues and negative sentiment posts will inevitably occur on a regular basis. Determine required actions for each type of sensitive topic and user posts with negative sentiment. 

Recommendation: if possible, move the conversation off your Facebook Page or Twitter Profile. Inquire about the issue, respond amiably and if possible resolve the issue.

If a user is irrationally posting negative sentiment – not valid criticisms or concerns – then you have the option of reporting or blocking the user. However, keep in mind that blocking users sometimes brings more attention and negative sentiment toward your brand.

Crafting successful crisis management strategies

When a crisis happens to your brand, you need to know how to react. A mishandled crisis can destroy your reputation, and can even end up circulating in the news.

Ensure you have a workable plan ready for dealing with crisis situations. These steps will help:

1. Detect

Before you can even begin to work on an issue, you have to know that there is an issue in the first place. To effectively manage your social media presence, you have to be tuned into the chatter surrounding your brand. 

Dealing with everyday complaints or posts with negative sentiment is a part of your regular reputation management. However, make sure that you are taking the time to look at the big-picture view to see if there is something bigger on the horizon.

An audience analysis tool like the one available as part of the Emplifi Social Marketing Cloud can help detect potential crises at the early stage while there are still some preventative measures to take.

2. Identify

Identify what led to the problem. Who was involved? What happened and when did it happen?

Once you have a clear and objective view of the problem, it’s time to look into steps to fix it. Make sure that you not only have control of the situation, but that each involved team in your organization is synced on how to deal with the situation and potential future crises like it.

3. Consider

We’ll call these the four Ts:

Tone – What should be the tone of your response? Make sure that it aligns both with your company’s tone in general, but also with the appropriate tone demanded by the situation. If you can be lighthearted about the incident, be lighthearted. If it’s a serious issue, communicate in a serious tone.

Timeliness – How long ago did the incident happen? Make sure you are reacting as quickly as you can without tripping over your own feet in an effort to correct your mistake. This is why it is so important to be efficient in how you take apart the problem and prepare your communication strategy.

Thoroughness – What networks are you covering? This is not like posting content; you do not need to be everywhere, drawing even more attention to a problem you would like to have people accept and move past. Consider how the story is spreading, and address it in the same way.

Transparency – In almost every situation, transparency is best. That means not only should your response acknowledge any mistake your brand made, but it also should show that you are trying to deal with it honestly. This means openly broadcasting all of the steps that you are taking to fix it and make sure it does not happen again.

4. Respond

Now, it’s time to respond. Ensure your team has their social media posts ready on all appropriate channels, then send them out. Be prepared to continually deal with further feedback – also, alert your PR team to your communications strategy so that news reports only include the official positioning. It is highly useful to be using a CMS tool here, to make sure that you are controlling the conversation to the fullest extent.

Once you have developed a plan, make sure to circulate it within your organization. Everyone in marketing, PR, and sales should read it. You could even try running scenarios with your team to test your preparation. 

With a good crisis plan in place and the proper training, your team can safely avoid a potential social media catastrophe.

Crisis management examples

Sometimes things get out of your control. They can get ugly. Posts meant to be internal going public, while others may be read as unintentionally insensitive or misleading, for example. Most often, a real-life brand image crisis carries over onto social media, where it can catch fire and spread quickly.

Here, we look at a couple of high-profile crises and how the companies involved handled the situation.

HBO

On June 17, 2021, thousands of people received a bizarre email from HBO Max with the subject line “Integration Test Email #1” that contained just one line: “This template is used by integration tests only.”

Clearly, this wasn’t supposed to be seen externally. HBO Max sent an explanation tweet acknowledging the mistake and stating that yes, believe it or not, it was in fact caused by an intern who the company is helping learn from the incident.

This was a minor incident, and by staying light-hearted about everything, HBO helped engender a lot of positive responses. Many people, including some well-known celebrities, started sharing their own mistakes and mishaps in tweets directed to the intern.

Some even pointed out that by discovering the hole in the integration system, the intern actually helped the company by bringing it to their attention.

Nike

The brand of shoes a basketball player wears is a big-money decision, especially for high-profile players. Usually, just getting a player to wear your brand is the bulk of the work from the shoe brand side. However, Nike had a crisis on its hands in 2019 when the highest-profile college player in the country, Zion Williamson, broke through his Nike shoe during the most-anticipated game of the season.

It was such a large incident that Nike’s stock fell 1.8% the following day. Clearly, the company needed to be proactive and do something to avoid continuing to be mocked by Twitter trolls all day.

In response, Nike put on a full-court press, sending teams to North Carolina – where the game had taken place – and even to Nike’s manufacturing site in China, where they helped develop a custom shoe for Zion Williamson.

From its initial concern to detailing the steps it was taking to fix the issue, Nike was open and up-front on social media about its response. The result was that Nike overcame the crisis and kept Williamson committed to the company as he released his own signature Nike shoe in April 2021.

The takeaway

Taking the first steps and drafting a social media issue and crisis management plan is a large step in developing your overall social media strategy. However, the work does not end there. 

The social media world is constantly changing and evolving, which means that your social media strategy, including your issue and crisis management plans, needs to adapt to these changes. Make sure that your social media management team is regularly analyzing key metrics about how they are resolving social media issues and deterring potential crises. 

From these analytical reports, there should be regular meetings to discuss any changes or amendments to optimize the effectiveness of your social media management plans.

Want to see how Emplifi can help your brand identify and address social media crises? Schedule a demo today to speak with one of our Emplifi experts.