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A social media crisis is something most brands will encounter at some point in time. Some will be more serious than others, but a solid social media crisis plan can help you better manage the situation and mitigate damages.
Maybe an intern accidentally posted on the company account (instead of a personal profile). Or, a major mistake (understandable or not) might spark online outrage amongst your audience.
Whatever the case, marketers and social media managers need to be prepared, which is why every company should have a social media crisis management plan in place. Equipped with your crisis survival guide, you’ll be prepared for even the worst situations.
Before we dig into the nuts and bolts of crisis planning, snag your free template to put together a complete crisis communication strategy. Use this post as a guide to complete it. Then, keep it somewhere easily accessible for your team, and you’ll be ready for the worst.
First, we need to be clear about what is (and isn’t) a crisis.
Linking to the wrong blog post on a social message – a minor mistake, but definitely not of crisis proportions.
Using a national disaster to promote your products and receiving backlash for it – definitely something that falls into the crisis category.
The first scenario happens from time to time. Humans make mistakes. We’re all busy and sometimes minor things slip through the cracks. The second situation, however, is obviously urgent. A strategic choice has led to some major issues and could do the brand major damage.
So, you get the idea. But, how do you actually separate day-to-day hiccups from genuine catastrophes?
Convince and Convert devised a great solution to this problem.
They built a customer response flowchart that matches the severity of an issue, to the right course of action. Here’s what theirs looks like:
You can create something similar by establishing five levels of issue severity:
Here’s an example from Delta: This customer reached out on Twitter with a question regarding frequent flyer upgrades.
Here’s an example from United:
Here’s an example from Instagram when the platform experienced an outage.
Here’s an example of how Samsung handled a terrible incident when its Galaxy Note 7 mobile phones were recalled due to safety issues.
Here’s an example from an incident where United handled the removal of a passenger poorly resulting in broken bones and unnecessary force. Following the incident, an internal statement from the CEO went public after reaffirming his support for employees while describing the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent.” After, the public was outraged and resulted in the CEO issuing an apology, new regulations and nearly $1 billion axed from its market value on the stock market.
Here are some examples of situations that would fit each level:
This isn’t a scientific scale, but it should give you some idea of how to prioritize. Unless it’s above Level 2, it’s really not a crisis at all. If it’s less than a Level 3, it most likely does not need to be escalated past your customer service team, or routine PR messaging.
Now you know what a crisis looks like. Next, let’s walk through how to spot them as they happen.
One of the worst things you can say in a crisis is nothing. So, make sure you’re monitoring what’s being said about your brand is essential for responding promptly.
The best way to do this is with social listening. The good news is, you can do this with CoSchedule. You no longer have to have your social message scheduling separate from your social media conversations.
Here’s how it works:
Follow these two steps:
To determine how many negative messages constitutes a crisis, Hootsuite recommends setting crisis thresholds. Here’s an example they outline for a hypothetical sports clothing company:
You can establish your own thresholds similarly, based on what you might think is reasonable.
Prevention is the best medicine.
Short of that, having a plan in place before things go haywire is the next best option.
Here are four things to prepare and keep on hand in case of emergency.
Using your crisis scale, establish who is responsible for managing the response at each level. It might look something like this:
Your employees likely have their own social media accounts. When disaster strikes, they may not know what they can (and can’t) say about the issue publically.
So, it’s important to make sure they don’t go rogue or leak information you don’t want to be released. This could make a bad situation worse.
Get in front of this with a documented response plan.
If a crisis reaches a level 4 or higher, do the following:
This is important for two reasons:
The best way to do this is with a shared and secure password repository. Some options include:
You can learn more about each of these services via Lifehacker. They all achieve more or less the same goal (and can be used for securing a lot more than just social media credentials).
Plus, they make it possible for each member of your team (or at least those who need social account access) to store and secure passwords in one place.
When a mistake happens, you may not have time to issue a detailed response right away. However, you’ll need to say something to acknowledge you’re aware of the issue before things get out of hand.
Plus, for routine inquiries, it can save time to have messaging ready to help you respond promptly.
You don’t need to be beholden to your templates, either. Keep them flexible enough that they can be edited to fit the given situation (and make sure they actually make sense before posting).
Here are some copy-and-paste examples you can use.
We’re sorry to hear you’ve been experiencing [INSERT PROBLEM]. Our customers expect and deserve better from us. Could you send us a DM with more details?
This sounds frustrating! Please accept our apologies, we should have resolved [INSERT PROBLEM] before it disrupted your day. Please call us at [INSERT NUMBER] and we’ll take care of this right away.
We’re extremely sorry to learn [INSERT PROBLEM] has been happening. Fortunately, we do have a solution that should help. Check out [INSERT URL] to find the next steps you should take.
If there’s anything else we can do, let us know!
Templates like this can help resolve routine inquiries fast. However, be cautious of overusing the same messaging too frequently. It can come across impersonal (though, really, most people will be okay with that as long as their problem gets fixed).
If your problem is more than just a customer complaint, though, you’ll need to go into full-on crisis mode.
This is where the rubber meets the road.
Where heroes are made.
Where … well, enough cliches. When something bad goes down, it’s time to spring into action. Instead of wildly scrambling and just doing … stuff, that seems like it might be helpful, follow these steps (and keep your thinking straight).
Overreacting or moving too fast will make more mistakes, more likely. Keep your head on your shoulders and do your best not to lose control of the situation.
Refer back to your crisis scale. Is the situation really as pressing as it feels?
If there’s a major news story breaking about a national catastrophe, you may want to put your promo posts on hold. It’ll help you avoid appearing to be in bad taste.
Use Pause Social Messages in CoSchedule to put every post on every network temporarily on hold.
Step 1: Go into Calendar Settings and find Pause Social Messages:
Step 2: Think carefully to make sure this is what you want to do. Then, click the button shown below:
Step 3: Type PAUSE into the confirmation box (we want to make absolutely sure this is what you want to do).
Now, all your automated social posts in CoSchedule are paused:
Don’t try to be a hero if it really isn’t your job to handle responses directly. Communicate amongst your team to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows who is handling what. Then, stay in your lane.
A fast way to make a problem worse is to not respond.
Ever have a problem at a store and wait 20 minutes for someone working to come help? Or get put on hold on the phone for an hour, just to get told no one can solve your problem?
Social media isn’t any different. If you get a flurry of legitimate complaints at 7 pm on a Friday and don’t respond until 10:30 am on Monday, no one is going to be happy. Even if you successfully resolve the issue, people will remember wasting their weekend feeling upset more than anything else.
In fact, according to Forbes, 30 minutes or less is the average response time to a complaint. Here’s what Ray Kemper from the agency Televerde said on the topic:
Respond ASAP, but in 30 minutes or less is average. Your social marketing manager should have a problem-resolution team across multiple departments that is on point for quick resolution. Even if you don’t have the answer, a quick reply that drives the conversation to a phone call can quickly change the conversation to a positive one. – Ray Kemper, Televerde
Now, if you’re a small organization, you may not be able to monitor social media 24/7. In these cases, people may be more likely understand. Do the best you can (but, like, legitimately do the best you can).
For larger companies though, consider the following:
Here are some examples:
Don’t let anyone feel left out, and make sure you respond to each message on the network where it appears.
There’s no sense in arguing with people, especially not when your brand is honestly at fault. Even if you’re not to blame, your company will almost assuredly look worse as a result. It sends the message that if other people have a problem or complaint, you’d rather fight than help.
And that’s just asking for trouble.
Instead, do this:
If you’re getting a high volume of questions or complaints around a handful of the same points, make a webpage or a post that addresses them. That way, you have one place to direct questions, and can keep your response consistent.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be too in-depth, so long as it’s useful. Make sure it covers the following points:
Once the crisis passes, it’s time to take stock of what happened. As an organization, ask yourselves:
Hopefully, you’ve managed to rectify the situation without causing major damage to your brand. But, even if the best of circumstances, two things are likely:
At this point, you’ll need to measure the damage. Here are some things to look for (keeping the two points above in mind):
You can’t always control a crisis. But, you can do yourself some favors, and put preventative measures in place.
Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes would have been preventable had they used a little common sense. Other times, they may not have known what is or isn’t acceptable social media use as it pertains to your brand.
Developing a clear social media policy can help make your company’s expectations clear. Employees can’t say they didn’t know something was unacceptable if the guidelines were given to them in writing.
Follow these steps:
Too often, companies get in trouble because they used a hashtag inappropriately, without knowing what it actually meant. Or, they’ll post something about their latest deals, at the same time as a national tragedy getting tons of news coverage.
As a marketer, you should be staying reasonably aware of current events, culture, and trends.
Even if you’re already reading blogs, staying on top of news, and tracking hashtags, you might feel like there’s more you can be doing. Here are a few ideas:
You now have all the info you need to handle a social media disaster. Although we hope you never have to put your plan into practice, it’s always best to be prepared.
Let’s recap what you’ve read:
Here’s to a (hopefully) crisis-free future.
This post was originally published on May 7, 2018, and was updated on June 26, 2019.
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