Key steps in preparing for a social media crisis

It’s impossible to control the online echo chamber, but you can plan so you won’t be caught flat-footed when a catastrophe strikes.

Crisis control in the age of social media is a topic that’s easy to ignore for many—until disaster strikes. What many companies don’t realize is how fast it can spiral out of control, and that it can come from an internal source, just as easily as from outside.

It was well said by @gerardcorbett in a recent #PRprochat: “There is no control in a crisis. There is only truth, honesty and doing the right thing.”

Whether it is a seasoned PR professional, a marketing agency handling a brand’s online reputation, or a business owner doing his or her own social media, planning for the worst is easy to overlook when you are juggling a thousand balls and every “squeaky wheel” demanding attention is more urgent than a “might happen” situation.

But (there’s always a but) if it happens, chances are your reaction might be too slow and too late to stop the momentum. What’s important is to plan for a crisis in a manner that makes the most sense for your business. There are hundreds of posts about what to do, how to plan, and being honest or transparent.

This isn’t about that.

In my opinion, it’s smack-upside-the-head obvious that you need to be continually monitoring your brand reputation, and when the worst happens, you have to be honest, admit your mistake, and share exactly how you plan to fix it. Don’t delete the post, don’t play dumb and ignore it, and above all don’t lie! You can’t dodge every bullet.

(There are some great tips about in the #PRprochat July transcript. That Twitter chat is for marketing professionals, and July’s chat revolved around this topic with special guest Peter Himler from Publicity Club of New York.)

It’s also obvious that large brands with social employees and dozens of platforms, handles, and profiles to be concerned about must create a crisis control plan that is vastly different from small brands. They also must use the tools and resources that best fit their specific needs.

As Peter Himler tweeted during #PRprochat: “Must have’s in a social crisis: (1) real-time monitoring, (2) a platform to disseminate information, and (3) a culture that allows it.”

Matching intent to reality

What isn’t happening at most companies and agencies, and isn’t talked about very much, is the reality of taking the intent to create a crisis management plan and transforming it into an actual plan—sitting down with teams or key staffers to talk through what could happen.

So let’s start the conversation. Here are a few steps to get the ball rolling:

• List each individual social media asset. Who manages what?
• Who handles customer service, sales, and marketing?
• Get them all together in a room.
• What is a crisis? What is a negative comment? What’s the difference? Discuss it.
• Worst-case situations—what would they look like? What could diffuse it? How early would it need to be caught, in terms of monitoring? Discuss this.
• Document the discussion.
• Who should be responsible for what? Who monitors? Who responds? Who facilitates fast approvals, when necessary?
• Map this discussion to a written plan. Distribute it.

These are just a few thoughts off the top of my head, and I’m sure you can chime in with other suggestions in the comments, (and please do), but my main takeaway for you is this: Don’t make the crisis control plan so large and complicated that it never gets off the ground. Starting anywhere is better than not starting at all, no matter what size your brand or organization is.

If you are an agency or PR pro, offer this planning to your clients. It’s revenue in your pocket for a deliverable that matters. If you don’t have the skills to offer this in-house, hire an expert. It’s a win/win for everyone.

Carrie Morgan is a 20-plus year public relations veteran based in Phoenix, specializing in digital PR. A version of this story first appeared on the Rock The Status Quo blog.


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