Social Media Crisis Management

  • July 04, 2013

Altimeter Group analyzed 50 social media crises that have occurred between 2001-2011 and found that those reaching mainstream media have risen steadily through the past decade, with just 1-2 incidents per year in the first five years and a total of 10 social media crises in 2011.

To maintain a positive social image and relationship with customers, here are five social media best practices to consider during a crisis:

1. Review scheduled posts immediately. If you use a system to schedule posts in advance, review scheduled posts from both corporate and personal accounts immediately. Don’t use inappropriate words for the situation and avoid communications that could be considered insensitive or capitalizing on a tragedy. It’s wise to discontinue traditional business social messages the day of a crisis as well.

2. Look for guidance from leadership on how to proceed. Typically companies appoint someone to lead the charge in a crisis. This person coordinates responses across social channels and the company takes this lead’s direction before posting anything. When relevant, this individual provides an approved message to be issued on social channels, even if it’s only a “holding statement.” In most cases, it isn’t appropriate to proactively put a statement out on social media.

Companies should consider if the crisis has a direct and unique impact on customers. If there is an impact, consider alternative channels to distribute the statement—as you know, social media is one communications vehicle and a corporate blog or reactive statement (i.e. when asked) may be more appropriate.

3. Real-time monitoring and listening. Listen to conversations taking place on social channels. By being clued in to the latest crisis developments, you’ll be able to assess how the situation impacts you, your industry and your customers, and when the dialogue has moved on.

4. Evaluate the situation. Wait until enough details are available—often early details are inaccurate. How, and if, you respond to an event depends on the amount your employees, customers and other stakeholders are affected. Remember, don’t express opinions and judgments or retweet/share the news surrounding the event. Avoid posting promotions or touting product as this can be seen as disrespectful. If your audience is affected, messages of support can be appropriate, but be sensitive and genuine in your messaging.

5. Monitor the crisis. Once you formally evaluate the situation and decide how to handle it, monitor the situation closely for new developments. Assess the situation for the next 72 hours and resume posting after you feel the crisis has passed. Use common sense to ensure your content is sensitive to the situation and your customers.

In a crisis, it’s important to monitor all digital media closely. But what are you looking for? Use a comprehensive monitoring tool that keeps track of mentions on social media channels, blogs, news services, and other digital sources. Here’s a short list of what you should watch and document:

Volume: record the number of post on the crisis each hour by channel.  Keywords you monitor may vary here, but at the least, watch the brand stream and any other keywords associated with the event. Keep an

eye on Twitter as hashtags develop and monitor them as well. Also make sure you track the number of crisis mentions to non-crisis mentions.

Sentiment: Some monitoring tools record sentiment. Use a simple positive (+), negative (-) and neutral (O) rating for both brand and event mentions. It’s important to separate brand issues from crisis issues. Sometime a negative online event can trigger a conversation of griping that actually has nothing to do with the event. Remember to weigh the issue sentiment heavier when devising response strategy. That should be your main focus. Crises can bring trolls out of the woodwork. Don’t feed the trolls.

Escalation: The first piece of escalation is looking at the number of crisis (or event) mentions to non-event mentions. Make sure this is on a timeline graph so you can see escalation at a glance. Escalation is a key indicator of when you should speak to the public. If an event is escalating quickly, it will require more interaction with stakeholder groups. Also track escalation by sheer volume and sentiment. Faster escalation requires faster and more frequent communication from the brand.

Influencers and Detractors: Make sure you track influencers by frequency of posting and shares. If you have time, you can even check on people’s social graphs or Klout scores. If you have important pieces of information, you may want to reach out to key positive influencers to help you spread messages. Remember that detractors are different from haters. Know how various online social communities operate in a crisis and use them accordingly.


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