Social Media Crisis Management

Sin & salvation within your reach

Imagine being in a room with your best friends, your idols and all the time in the world to kibitz, share and ask questions. Welcome to social media cocktail hour – it starts when you login to your favorite hangout.  Anything goes here: I love you, I like you and I’m so done with you. Like bar stools and the holy trinity, all good (and not-so-good) things come in threes.

If you’re a brand at the cocktail party, welcome to your new religion. If you’re lucky (and smart enough) to grow a community, it can become your church, putting salvation within reach. Belly up to the altar and drink the wine of acceptance – because you’ve arrived.

But what happens when your sins catch up with you? What if you screw up? Do you have a social media crisis plan in place? Do you know where and how to repent for your sins and find salvation?

Social media sinners

cocktail party temptationsI’ve worked for big and small companies and many share a trait that never ceases to amaze me – they don’t plan for a crisis in social media. I’ve seen astronomical investments for sensitivity training, CPR certification – even a chain of command in case of a bomb threat. All good things to prepare for but what if when something goes wrong in social media?

That would NEVER happen to us – we’re simply too awesome.

First lesson in the catechism: yes it can happen. You’re not as awesome as you think.

When the recession hit in 2009, I was serving as communication director for a manufacturer that had been in business more than 15 years and was considered an industry leader. But the path to the pearly gates is paved with good intentions – and unpaid bills. Suppliers panicked. When phone calls didn’t generate action, some of them miraculously discovered social media. It was a mass epiphany from people who’d ignored that medium previously.

As the company spokesperson and community manager, I became the target. Trouble is, social media was so new and we hadn’t anticipated being crucified by a group of people who didn’t know a Facebook update from a tweet. And we hadn’t anticipated they’d reach past the company profile and target employee’s personal accounts. Couple poor planning with a tanking economy and our happy, healthy community lynched us and then abandoned us in our moment of need.

If you’re a community manager or CEO, map your crisis path out before your begin your social media journey. Now. Before something happens. Remember, not every crisis is truly a crisis. Most of the time, there are a million opportunities to fix the problem before it hits the airwaves.

Lessons learned

fan the flames or extinguishSomeone needs to actively listen to the community – not just monitor it

        • Most customer service issues begin with simple questions
        • Take questions off-line with phone calls
        • Put your customer’s needs first – always

 A canned apology isn’t good enough

        • Social media is just a tool and communication during a crisis needs to be personal
        • Social media is not a press release – it must be real and honest to be effective
        • Every person who posts on the wall (positive or negative) deserves a response

 Timing is of the essence

        • Even in 2009, a weekend was too long for the company to wait to respond
        • All hands are on deck during a crisis – no exceptions

Social media saints

Companies and organizations that plan for crisis find salvation in the very people who have the power to kick them out of the church. Their congregation becomes a devoted choir ready to once again sing their praises.

After all, who doesn’t love a story about redemption? A saint with a past as a sinner – now that’s beautiful.

In 2012, I was part of a team that cancelled a highly anticipated community event. We had less than 2 days to map out our announcement plan, which included reaching out to sponsors, speakers, ticket holders and the community at large. The strategy was simple to define (thanks to my hell-on-wheels previous experience).

Instead of controlling the message, we invited conversation. We announced our news – both person to person and publicly across social media airwaves – and then just talked with people. And you know what? We found out a whole lot more people wanted to help us than hurt us. It was humbling to watch.

And yes, it became my personal epiphany.

If you’re on social media as a brand, the tips below will help you create a crisis plan. Take my advice: do it now before you need it. As awesome as we are, we all need to plan for when we’re not so awesome.

Social media crisis plan

  • can sinners be redeemed?Create a decision flowchart
    • Use simple instructions for those involved. If this happens, that follows and this person is contacted, etc.
    • Attach accountability and responsibility to each action so everyone understands their roles
    • Align it with your traditional communication plan
  • Assign a spokesperson
    • One voice carries one message – amplified by others if needed
    • Monitor from the director level but execute by multiple managers who collaborate and agree on the message
  • Do fire drills
    • Practice so employees can see how tactical responses align with your over-arching business goals
    • The more comfortable staff are in *what if* situations, the more comfortable they’ll be massaging the message in a real disaster
  • Respect the clock
    • Time is of the essence in social media – 24 hours is too long
    • All hands are on deck, checking in with gatekeepers

I’d love to hear your thoughts on creating a crisis plan. If you’ve done one, if you need to do one and even if you think they’re silly. You can find me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook or connect with me on LinkedIn – I’m always on.


6 Responses to “Social Media Crisis Management”

  1. I recall what could have been a social media crisis with an event cancellation, but with swift planning and an action plan ready with the team members involved it made what could have been a bumpy road a smooth travel. 🙂

    • Julia Rosien says:

      It was a tough time, wasn’t it, Lisa. Thankfully we all had the team’s best interests at heart and worked together to cover all the bases. Thanks for stopping by to have a read and leave a comment.

  2. Shannon Markle says:

    Great blog! Thanks for the sound advice and reminder to be prepared for the unexpected.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thanks so much, Shannon. You and I know (firsthand) how important a social media crisis plan can be. Appreciate your stopping by and reading the post. Cheers!

  3. Paula Kiger says:

    Great points! I especially love the line: “Instead of controlling the message, we invited conversation.” I work for an ED (I’m not the communications person but …) who definitely does not feel that way – more of a “lock down and let it pass/ignore” type of philosophy – and IMO we lose SO many chances to make things right with our customers. Sigh.

  4. Tracy says:

    The old adage: an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure works here too. I like your suggestion of conversation vs canned response. It goes to the root of what social media is to be about- authentic relationships and conversations. Seems so intuitive. Why would things in crisis be any different? You nailed it. Thanks!

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