Let's be clear right up front: you need a crisis plan, and the steps outlined below are only intended to be deployed once one is in place. If you haven't developed a crisis plan, do so immediately, because there's no time to do it once a problem arises.
So you've taken the necessary precautions and your plan is in place, and a social media crisis hits. What do you do? Ann Andrews Morris, principal of AndMore Communications, LLC, emphasizes in PR News' Book of Crisis Management Strategies & Tactics that these steps need to be taken quickly, at the first whiff of a problem. Don't wait and see whether or not it blows up before taking action!
- Determine what is not a crisis. Rumors and complaints are not crises. But, if you don’t want these situations to turn into crises, quash rumors in an appropriate manner and resolve complaints as much as possible.
- If it is a crisis, determine what type it is, i.e. immediate crisis (often of the natural disaster or major emergency type), emerging crisis (can be anticipated and minimized at early stages) or sustained crisis (involves situations that may linger for years).
- Ask the following questions: Did the crisis start online or offline? What is the source? What is the content? How long has it been online? What has been the response/pick-up?
- Activate your plan.
- Take responsibility.
- Be a coordinated and effective team.
- Demonstrate control.
- Reduce uncertainty.
- Strive for quality and frequency.
- Combat rumors and prevent speculation.
- Win sympathy and recognition.
- Protect the brand.
- Know what to say.
- Explain what happened, admit mistakes, take responsibility and outline reparative and preventative steps.
- Always, always, always tell the truth.
- If you don’t have more information, explain why.
- When appropriate and relevant, highlight the organization’s corporate social responsibility effort.
- Use clear and specific language and avoid industry jargon.
- Whatever you do, say it with one voice across all channels, but adjust your tone to each stakeholder group.
- Know when to say it.
- Say it early and often.
- Deliver consistent messages to each stakeholder group through the channel that they are most responsive to.
- Keep track of coverage of all conversations regarding your brand, carefully choose which ones to participate in, and become part of the conversation with your messaging.
- Keep an open door.
- Be visible and accessible.
- Be as transparent as possible with information.
More in-depth advice on this subject will be covered in our webinar Effective Crisis Communications: How to Manage the Message and Protect Your Brand on Feb. 18, featuring speakers from DuPont Company, ConocoPhillips and Kglobal.
Follow Ian: @ianwright0101