A Social Media Crisis Checklist for 2020

man on top of angry pile of social media comments

Editor’s Note: While much of our continuing coverage focuses on COVID-19 communications, it never hurts to revisit crisis operating procedures, particularly as they relate to social media. (In fact, with so many projects on pause, now may be the ideal time to rethink your crisis response.) The below should be useful as you audit your internal social media processes to stay resilient amid a communications crisis.

As a brand or business, the followers you gain on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are ideal audiences for maintaining connections and communicating big news. Unfortunately, social media can be a fickle friend; the slightest slip-up can have a huge impact on your brand reputation and customer relationships.

Luckily, there are a number of strategies you can put in place to manage the fallout.

Write up a social media policy. Many social media crises can be averted via an effective and thorough social media policy that all employees are familiar with. Be sure to craft a comprehensive set of guidelines and rules for all of your staff to follow in their social media posts and responses.

Build your dream team. A crisis requires everyone to pitch in. Still, too many cooks spoil the broth; determine specific roles and responsibilities for each staffer. Make sure the members of your team are aware of these expectations ahead of time so they can spring into action as soon as a crisis hits.

Define what a social media crisis means to you. Not every negative comment constitutes a crisis. Your organization will always have critics, and most of the time, complaints can be addressed on an individual basis with direct communication (and maybe a discount). These one-off events don’t require mobilization of your crisis team. "To be considered a crisis, there need to be enough people with the same complaint that it create(s) a negative change in the perception of your brand" says Matthew Wingar, a social media marketer who writes for Last Minute Writing and Writinity.

Stop scheduled posts. When a crisis starts, the first step is to pause any soon-to-publish posts on your social media pages. Carrying on as you would normally shows disregard for your customers’ reactions to the crisis in question. A member of your crisis team should be responsible for putting an immediate hold on future posts.

Identify your key message. As a social media communicator, you know how you want the public to perceive your brand. Craft a concise key message that effectively communicates your response and demonstrates the core values of your company. Get your message out there as soon as possible so the public and your customers can see that you have acknowledged the issue and that you’re working toward making it right.

Engage with your customers. The whole point of setting up your branded social media accounts was to communicate directly with your customers on the channels where they spend their time. Don’t ignore them when things aren’t going smoothly. When people are angry, they want answers. Once you put your initial, broader crisis response message out there, you free yourself up for more granular outreach. That is the time to respond directly to tweets, draft up a few press releases or even shoot a video response.

"Talk to your customers but avoid arguing with them at all costs. You should respond in short, respectful and constructive ways to begin the process of moving on for both your brand and your customers," writes Tamara Bakerson, business blogger at Research Papers UK and Draft Beyond.

In times of crisis, the most important thing is to stay calm and take the high road. Remind your customers why they were on your team in the first place. Be patient; with strategic outreach and a strong team, your next social media crisis will blow over.

Ashley Harris writes for Lucky Assignments.