How To Handle A Social Media Crisis

In an age where citizen journalism rules, social networks such as Twitter and Facebook are hotbeds for breaking news, and consequentially have become breeding grounds for controversy and crisis. Brands can make or break their reputation with a tweet or status update, and one customer complaint can become a trending topic within 24 hours. For this reason, brands are becoming exponentially more concerned with how to protect their identities and handle catastrophe with care.

Here is a condensed roadmap to stemming a social crisis:

Step 1: Determine if the threat is real, andif there is going to be significant chatter about the incident. Are influential publishers (bloggers, Twitter users) joining the conversation? Is shareable content pertaining to the issue (video, photo, screen grabs) being circulated? Are you experiencing much more social chatter per minute than your brand normally sees? If yes, action needs to be taken.

Step 2: Pull all paid social advertising. Pull all advertising -- or as much as possible -- on social media until the crisis has blown over or has reached some resolution. The last thing you want to do is pay money to remind people of the negative connotation to your brand.



Step 3: Revoke access to your social channels for anyone who is not part of your crisis response team, particularly those who may be tempted to defend the company in an emotional way.

Step 4: Inform your social community personnel. If you have local presences, you should send a note to all social community personnel that they must refrain from posting until they hear next steps from you.

Step 5: Assess what happened and inform senior leadership at your organization.  At this point, you have control of the social output, and you can take a quick deep breath to assess exactly what happened. Knowing how the situation came to pass will then help you determine what actions you will need to take to correct the situation. If it will take some time to evaluate the scenario, you should consider writing a post that you’ve heard the complaints and are looking into the matter. Make it clear to senior decision-makers at your company that this is a reputational issue, and that you need to be actively commenting on it as soon as possible.

Step 6: Do not delete external comments. You’ll likely begin to receive a number of negative comments on your owned social communities. As tempting as it may be, you should not delete anything -- and should refrain from any replies until you are certain you know what the next steps will be.

Step 7: Find out who is really upset. At this time, many people will be actively trolling you -- for example, people claiming fake outrage when they are only looking to get a rise out of your brand. They should be ignored. Some may actually be upset, while others might just be trying to get a laugh from their followers.

Step 8: Draft a response. Once you have the official messaging approved by senior leadership at your company, you should draft a personal message that addresses the problem. Obviously you have to worry about legal obligations, but in this scenario the public is much more likely to forgive if they sense a human is behind the statement. You won’t be able to respond to each individual tweet, but you can focus on those who seem especially aggrieved, were personally affected, or will not relent until they get a reply. Vary the message to each; you don’t want to seem robotic.

Step 9: Gauge reactions. Gauge customers’ response to your statement an hour after posting. If the clamor has gone down, you can carry on with scheduled content the next day. If it has not affected the conversation, consider a post the next day that, while apologetic, gets things moving towards business as usual.

Step 10: Debrief and create a case study for future incidents. After the smoke clears, assess the tone and quantity of conversations pre- and post-official response and create a case study to help prepare the company for the next incident.

Don’t expect everything to get back to normal immediately, as recovery from a crisis is rarely smooth and can take weeks, months or even years depending on the severity of the problem. Anticipate upcoming issues and be ready to face new challenges.

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