Don’t be surprised by a social media crisis: Prepare Now

September 16, 2020
By iQ Staff
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Social media conversations are moving more quickly than ever before, with controversy appearing to bubble up out of nowhere and taking on a life of its own. Crises can stem not only from negative news related to your organization, but also from social and global issues as they flare up, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened awareness around racial injustice, and the looming presidential election. And when your company runs into trouble, social media is typically where the crisis unfolds first.

While you may not be able to predict your company’s next contentious issue, you don’t have to waste time scrambling to contain it when the tornado hits. With thoughtful preparation, you can mobilize quickly to protect your brand’s reputation online at the first sign of trouble.


Preparation is critical in a social media crisis

Companies with high performing social media channels always prepare for potential crises, both those that emerge over a period of months and those that unexpectedly flare up in a frenzy of negative social media activity. Preparing a social media crisis plan before the crisis hits helps organizations respond quickly and effectively.

These plans generally include social media response protocols that identify the responsibilities of staff, chain of command, and clear guidelines to help social media managers understand if and when to respond to activity of concern. For example, social media crisis plans should offer direction on how to react to misinformed versus trollish comments. In the case of the misinformed, responses aim to educate and shift perceptions, whereas managers should diffuse or simply acknowledge feedback from ragers or trolls.

While it is not feasible to predict all possible crises, a good plan will outline likely scenarios with examples of activity and recommended responses. The goal of the plan is to empower social media managers to respond quickly to minimize the potential for harmful activity to balloon into a more significant issue. To get started on your plan, download our crisis communications checklist here.


Implement social listening

Listening tools are valuable for day-to-day social media management because they provide a big picture view into the particular social media universe that encompasses your brand. During a crisis, these tools are critical in helping communicators identify problematic activity. If the tools flag direct criticism, you need to ask yourself a few key questions. Should you acknowledge a mistake and apologize? Do you need to correct misinformation and stop it from spreading? You may want to consider developing issue-specific response protocols for these scenarios. If a crisis emerges, expand social listening to capture activity related to the issue by tweaking the keyword list and tracking vocal participants.


Review social media calendars and communications activity

If your brand finds itself in the midst of a social media crisis, it is crucial to evaluate scheduled social media content to avoid exacerbating the issue. Does the situation warrant a full pause in activity on one or all channels? If not, it’s still important for you to review planned content and look for language or visuals that may seem tone deaf, incongruous, or contradictory to the crisis management messaging.

And it isn't just social media content that can add fuel to the fire in a crisis. Communicators should also review upcoming blog posts, website content, announcements and earned media opportunities and consider whether they may help or harm.


“Be prepared to have a back-and-forth dialogue; it will not just a be a one-way conversation.”


Now may be the time to engage faithful followers and influencers, particularly if you are trying to disseminate correct information or links to resources. You’ve spent years cultivating this network of social media advocates with the hope that they rally around you at a time like this. Just as in any conversation, be prepared to have a back-and-forth dialogue. Even under “normal” circumstances, customers increasingly expect meaningful interactions and transparency when they interact with brands on social media. Introduce a crisis scenario and their expectations are likely to increase.


Weather the social media storm

Whether we like it or not, all communicators will have to deal with a large-scale social media crisis at some point in their careers. If you’ve prepared ahead of time, you can emerge from the storm as a survivor with your brand’s reputation intact.