Building an effective social media crisis management plan

Building a social media crisis management planSocial media has brought organisations a wealth of opportunities including direct engagement with customers, brand-building, and a channel for market research, to name a few. However, this dynamic channel has also brought about a number of risks which many organisations are poorly prepared for, with one study reporting that only 54% have a crisis plan in place!

The Chartered Institute of PR defines crisis management as “Having a plan in place that can be effectively actioned when something goes wrong for an organisation.” This blog provides guidance on how to write an effective social media crisis management plan, taking inspiration from Jonathan Bernstein’s 10 steps of Crisis Communications.

Assess your current risk levels

Taking on board the famous Scout motto “always be prepared” this can certainly be applied to social media crisis management! By evaluating the range of risks and potential crises that your organisation could be exposed to is the first step in crisis preparedness. This could include natural disasters, man-made disasters, technology failures, organisational failures, rumours and more. Each industry will have a variety of sources of potential crises that are bespoke to the industry, for example, within the Financial industry, contagion refers to when financial crises may spread from one institution to another. It is important to consider the role social media can play in the event of a crisis. Start the process by inviting senior internal stakeholders to take part in a brainstorming session to identify any potential crises that could occur.

Identify your Crisis Communications team

A small team should be identified to act as the Crisis Communications team. It will be important to outline key roles and responsibilities e.g. someone will need to control/restrict the scheduled outbound social media content that is being published by your organisation. You will also need to identify the chain of escalation so that your employees know where to turn for support in the event of the crisis. Having this identified ahead of time will ensure an efficient and speedy response.

Select and train your key spokespeople

It will be important to pre-select and screen a few individuals who could act as the role of key spokesperson in the event of a crisis. Choose people with the right skill-set for the situation and who are comfortable and familiar with online communications. Ensure that they receive sufficient media training to give them the support and confidence they need to act in a challenging environment.

Listening and monitoring

Utilise a social media listening tool such as SoCrowd’s Buzz Monitor to track and monitor conversations. At a basic level you need to be tracking what your customers are saying about your brand, service, products, but it is also important to consider the wider conversations that are taking place about key influencers, competitors, the CEO, and keywords within your industry. Using a sentiment analysis tool (found within SoCrowd’s Conversations feature set) you can track the negative or positive nature of these conversations taking place, to provide you with oversight of the general feeling of your customers. Another factor to consider, is to identify a crisis threshold. For example, how many negative comments per hour will trigger an escalated response?

Notifying key stakeholders

In your Social Media Crisis Management plan it will be important to outline the key stakeholders that you need to be informed of the situation. This will include ensuring employees are up to speed on how to respond to your customers and that there is a consistent message being used throughout the organisation. This internal communication will be vital in providing your employees with confidence that the situation is under control. It is also worth considering if you need to contact any external partners who may be impacted by the crisis, to provide further reassurance and support.

Develop a holding response

Holding statements are used when a crisis ‘breaks’ and there is no harm in preparing a number of these statements covering a variety of scenarios in advance, to ensure a speedy response. Trying to respond to a crisis scenario in 140 characters when under pressure is tough at the best of times! These statements will acknowledge that you are aware of the situation, that you are taking steps accordingly, and putting the customers views/safety at the forefront. It will be important to regularly review these statements and ensure that they are up to date, as well as providing you with the opportunity to include any other scenarios that may have developed over time.

Continue to monitor

Once you have posted your holding response, ensure that you are continuing to monitor the scenario closely on social media and across wider communications channels. Effective resourcing and having pre-determined workflows (such as ensuring the right people are notified about new enquiries/comments) will be critical at this sensitive time.

Having these elements included within your Social Media Crisis Management plan will go a long way in helping to quickly identify a potential crisis and ensure an efficient and effective response.

However, in the event of a crisis…

Continue to assess the scenario and formulate your organisation’s formal response. When developing the response take into consideration the best way to deliver this message to your audience. Will social media be the host for the response? Does the situation require empathy so would a more personalised face-to-face video style response be appropriate? How will you manage the reaction to your response?

We would strongly recommend working closely with your legal team to ensure that your response is compliant with UK law and that you are not opening the organisation up to further risk.

The final step is to evaluate and debrief with key individuals on your organisation’s response to the crisis so you can learn what worked well and areas to improve for the future.