In times of crisis, the public's first reaction is to go to social media. With a direct line to the companies involved in a crisis situation, the public doesn't have to wait for news outlets to get information on a brewing situation.
For brands, that means that a crisis management strategy needs to include preparation not only at a managerial and media relations level but also at a social level.
According to Carolyn Mae Kim, who is on the public relations faculty at Biola University in the department of journalism and integrated media and a contributor to PR News' Crisis Management Guidebook Vol. 7, there are three key areas that should be in place to help you weather any crisis on social media: user policies, communication protocols and community trust.
In any community, there should be clear guidelines regarding expectations, consequences and standards. This is precisely what a user policy does in the world of social media. You’ll need several kinds of policies in place.
- Community user policies. These policies are the kind that relate to the way the general public interacts on your social media platforms. The community policy is designed to make everyone feel welcome, respected and able to share perspectives. But certain kinds of language, over-posting or threats cannot be tolerated on your social pages. Also remember that if your organization waits until it is in a crisis to create and enforce a community policy, it will appear that you only did it to control conversations.
- Internal social media policy. This policy relates to how employees who are managing the brand’s social media can interact. It will be the guiding force behind knowing who can post, when to respond, which platforms to update and where to direct traffic. This plan should clarify who needs to approve posts, particularly in crisis. It should include legal considerations and parameters specific to crisis situations.
- Internal employee social media policy. This policy covers your employees' personal social media usage. Employee social media policies are a significant area of focus for companies, as too many violate employee rights. Be sure to review any employee policy with your legal team. Just make sure they are aware of the situation and clear on their outlets that they do not speak for the company while making sure they have access to information to point people in the right direction.
When a crisis hits, it’s already too late to decide who should do what. While the internal social media policy will guide employees managing social media during a crisis, making sure that a communication protocol is in place to empower social media to be effective during a crisis is vital.
One of the key considerations that should be addressed is who needs to approve what before it goes on social media. Social media happens in real time, so waiting 24 hours to get an “official post” up is far too long. However, your social media team also can not be updating and addressing every little area along the way. Consider creating some generic posts that could be posted immediately depending on a disaster. Get it pre-approved by everyone involved. You’ll also want to have a website be the source for your posts. You can point back to it and share pieces throughout all your sites.
Additionally, make sure that your social team is kept in the loop throughout a crisis. If a new post is going up, they should be alerted immediately. Finally, avoid feeding into the crisis through social media. Follow basic policies about avoiding disputes on the platforms, posting any information before it is confirmed and being aware of what others are saying.
The single biggest factor in crisis-proofing your social media will be your ability to build community trust. This absolutely cannot happen after a crisis has begun. It should take place weeks, if not months, before. Your organization should regularly interact with the public online. Be known as a brand that is ready to be transparent, shares information as early as possible and is interactive. Brands that are helpful during good times tend to find themselves supported during bad times. There’s nothing a brand could hope for more, at least in social media, than to have fans come to its defense when a crisis hits. Building trust, having a plan and establishing expectations will go a long way toward crisis proofing your social media.
Follow Brian Greene: @bwilliamgreene