4 Ways to Prepare for a Social Media Crisis

crisis communications

It's difficult to read media news without coming across at least one story about a company fighting for its reputation after getting in trouble on social media. Organizations of all kinds—from police departments to pizza companies—have continually found creative ways to get themselves into trouble on social media. With online audiences expanding, the necessity of good social media crisis communications is growing in importance.

Whether the damage is self-inflicted or the result of a difficult topic resurfacing, professional crisis communicators argue that the success or failure of a crisis response depends on the preparation done before the crisis actually occurred.

With that in mind, Jeff Porter, director of digital strategy APCO Worldwide and speaker at PR News' upcoming Crisis Management Bootcamp in New York City, shares some tips for being prepared ahead of a crisis:

1. Be prepared.

The speed at which a crisis can escalate in social media is amazing. Having the necessary protocols in place and a team trained on how to follow them can make the difference between managing a crisis effectively and having the situation spin out of control. When managing crises in social media, it's critical to have clearly outlined processes for assessment, escalation and approval. Community managers and brand ambassadors should be aware of your organization’s sensitive issues. They should also know when escalation is appropriate and to who alerts should go. Final authority for approval should be clearly defined as well. Even the best crisis response strategy can be derailed if the lines of communication and authority are unclear.

2. Keep your friends close and your critics closer.

Crises don’t always come out of nowhere. Often an issue you have been monitoring regularly is impacted by an event that moves it off the back burner and into the crisis category. Use social media monitoring to educate yourself on the online stakeholder groups interested in the issues that impact your business. Identify the influencers within these groups and know where they stand on these issues. Knowing your stakeholders’ perspectives on key issues can be helpful in developing your crisis communications strategy. Keeping up on relevant social media discussions can sometimes provide clues as to when an evergreen issue is heating up and threatening to become a crisis.

Jeff Porter, director of digital strategy APCO Worldwide
Jeff Porter, Director, Digital Strategy, APCO Worldwide

3. Don’t be a stranger.

The midst of a crisis is not the best time to be introducing yourself. Take the time during the course of your daily work to look for opportunities to engage with online stakeholders and add value to the conversation. Don’t think of social media monitoring as simply a defensive play. Use your monitoring to mine for opportunities to insert yourself into discussions and build relationships. Relationships developed through ongoing engagement in social media can prove invaluable in a crisis situation.

4. Deepen your bench.

Regardless of where a crisis begins, you can be pretty sure it will migrate to and spread through social media. The days of safely relying on one or two social media specialists to develop and execute on social strategies are fading fast, if not already gone. Strive to develop social media literacy among your team and across your organization. This involves going beyond the establishment of social media guidelines. It requires educating your people so that they have a more in-depth understanding of social media, effective engagement processes, and social media’s capability for impacting reputation and business results. Your deeper bench will insure you have the necessary redundancies in social media crisis expertise, and it will expand the roster of individuals capable of contributing to development of your social strategies.

To learn more about building a crisis management dream team, join PR News for the Crisis Management Boot Camp, taking place on Sept. 15 in New York City.

Follow Jeff Porter on Twitter: @jporter

Follow Brian Greene on Twitter: @bw_greene