What do you do if a catastrophe happens with your social media? If you don’t have a plan you may not be able to respond in time. But by creating a plan for how to respond you make it simple in the moment. There are a few simple elements that your plan needs to have in order to really work well. 

Your First Line Of Defense

The first thing you need in order to stop catastrophes is a system to watch for them. By having a person or group of people who monitor your social media presence you can know everything as soon as it happens. You need to not only be monitoring your own profiles and the reactions to anything that your company puts up but also anything that is tagged or related to you. 

A good example of this is a few years ago a fast-food employee stood in the lettuce bucket and posted pictures on his personal Instagram that he and his colleagues had served sandwiches with stepped on lettuce all night. The company did not respond for almost 24 hours and it was actually online vigilantes that used the geotargeting data in the images to find the store and call corporate. Had the company been monitoring closely for any mentions of them they would quite likely have been able to calm the issue before it went viral. 

Define What Your Company Considers A Crisis In Advance

You need to train your social media team to understand when to raise the level of response by what type of issue it is. 

How serious is it?

If it is a health issue like with the burger joint you need to be able to respond immediately. Empowering your social media team to handle simple things as they come and understand when to send out the bat signal is important. If someone posts on a photo that they don’t like the editing the executive team really does not need to know. 

How large is the issue?

Is it something that happened one time or in a single branch of a multinational company? Or is something that is happening frequently? If the issue is common or happening across the board it will need to be handled differently and by the higher-level team than otherwise. 

Is the issue new or something that is common for your company?

Is your company one that has a political or religious stance that gives angry people a target? Do you maybe support the local sports team’s rivals? If you are getting the same kind of attacking posts all the time they are probably not important to handle instantly. In fact, negative press can be used in your favor if it is common enough. A good example of this is the enormous public outcry against Popeye’s being out of chicken sandwiches. The long term effect is that they have increased their visibility, and when they bring the sandwiches back, the demand will be vastly more than it could have been otherwise. 

Is the issue one that your company can control?

If your company has no way to affect the situation or information or information on what is happening it can become a much larger issue. You need to have a way to involve the executive team and find the information needed to respond best. 

In February there was a “blizzard” in Seattle that caused a wide variety of issues These ranged from people having 10 days without mail service, to residents not being able to get to work.There was even the cancellation of hundreds of flights. Many companies did not have any better information than the public was able to access. This made it hard for them to respond appropriately and communicate which services they could still provide. 

Another situation where this could happen is a sudden social outcry, like the riots a few years ago when a police officer shot a young black man. Companies were affected and needed to respond in some manner but without enough information, many failed to respond at all which caused people to think they sided with one side or the other. 

Create a simple flowchart

This will help your team know whether to call you directly or handle it at a lower level. Your flowchart needs to include information such as the factors above as well as who exactly to contact in each context and how to most efficiently notify them. You may even want to create pre-written messages which can just be edited in order to save your team time in a crisis. If you have a large organization, you may need to utilize legal advice in setting this up as you don’t always want the entire staff having the CEO’s home phone number. 

When an issue happens

Once a situation occurs there are several things that need to happen as soon as possible. The first is to pause all scheduled posts until the company is ready to properly respond. Your social media team will shift to helping the team who is monitoring the situation. 

Your next step needs to be acknowledging the issue. Remember that acknowledgment is not the same as taking the blame. Whatever the situation is acknowledge that you know about it and that you are investigating. 

The third thing you need to do is create a way to easily update your audience on developments. This is often as simple as a FAQ page with information such as what is happening and how the company found out. It also needs to say how you are currently responding as well as the steps you are taking to prevent the issue happening again and how the public can contact humans at the company to help with additional questions. 

Once you have these steps in place you are ready to respond on social media with information such as where the FAQ page can be found, a succinct summary of the situation, and the estimated impact. You should also continue using the same initial post to add updates as the situation progresses in order to keep the information organized and prevent people from only being able to see a small portion that may not give the full story. 

You can use simple visuals such as updating your company’s profile picture to help people realize something is happening and that you are working to try and resolve it. 

It is very very VERY important (you get that it is important right?!) to provide people with a place to discuss such as a designated Facebook page or public forum. This will allow you to monitor things more easily as well as help you respond efficiently to the messages that need responses. Oftentimes when people don’t feel heard they just try to get louder until they do feel heard. By giving them space where they can be heard you are also opening the door for them to feel ready to listen.

In responding to unhappy posts or comments stick to two responses maximum for each as t show you are open to engaging in the conversation and fixing the situation as best you can. It also allows you to step away when someone is just too angry to listen or looking to be part of the drama. 

Make sure your entire staff is aware of the situation and the best ways to respond to question because it is common for friends and family to contact anyone who works at the company involved and demand answers.

The final step in a social media crisis is studying what happened and how so that you can learn from it in order to hopefully prevent a similar event in the future. 

Remember, stay calm and you can weather almost any issue. You may even come out the other side better off long term because of something you learn or change do to the crisis.

If you liked this post then please check out my other post on how to create trustworthy content for your audience. And please take a look at my Facebook page here, and my Instagram where you can get even more tips and other good stuff!

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