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7 Steps To Overcome A Social Media Crisis

Social media is a powerful tool for businesses of any size. But it’s also a tool used by hackers, unhappy customers and disgruntled employees — and in their hands, it can wreak havoc with your brand.

Then there’s the danger of self-inflicted social media wounds. An employee’s poorly conceived Tweet or Facebook posting can cause offense where none was intended. The next thing you know, the blogosphere is up in arms and it feels like the sky is falling.

Either way, you have a social media crisis on your hands and it’s not going to go away.

In these situations, the best defense is thorough preparation and planning, along with a few other critically important steps for addressing such a crisis.

#1 Design a crisis plan. Does your business have a working social media policy? If so, does it include protocols to follow in the event of a crisis? Is there a designated spokesperson trained in the right social media response? What about having a crisis management team in place, including someone from Public Relations, Human Resources, Marketing, the CEO’s office, etc.?

“Whether the damage is self-inflicted or the result of a difficult topic resurfacing, professional crisis communicators argue that the success or failure of a crisis response depends on the preparation done before the crisis actually occurred,” says Brian Greene, writer/editor at PR News.

#2 Always be listening. An effective crisis management plan should include the use of social listening (or social monitoring) tools. From Hootsuite to TweetDeck and a host of other resources, you can monitor the online activities of relevant stakeholders (customers, investors, the general public) and keep an eye on what key influencers are talking about.

“Sometimes social listening tools will pick up the chatter about a topic that you may not expect and will give you time to address it before it blows up within the social stratosphere,” notes business culture expert Ekaterina Walter. “Most of the brand disasters could have been prevented just by picking up the early chatter and being prepared to address it before it escalates.”

#3 Don’t delay in your response. With any sort of negative situation, a speedy response is absolutely essential. Consult with others as needed, but don’t delay in recognizing the issue and crafting a response.

#4 Acknowledge and apologize. Be quick to acknowledge that an issue or problem exists (hint: Ignoring it won’t make it go away!). If your company is at fault, own up to it and inform customers that you’re taking corrective action. Consumers don’t expect a business to be perfect, but they do expect transparency and honesty. If you don’t meet those standards, you’ll lose their trust.

#5 Stay cool. No one likes to feel harassed or unjustly accused of something. But there’s no room in social media for lashing out at customers. Getting sucked into a public argument will only make things worse.

A better approach is assessing the situation calmly and from the other side’s perspective. By practicing empathy and then composing a thoughtful measured response, you’ll go a long way toward defusing the situation.

#6 Stick to the facts. Your response should adhere to the facts — no opinions or speculations, please. (This only opens the door to further online abuse.)

One useful approach is creating a special page on your website where all the factual information is easily stored and accessible by others. This includes the actions you’re taking to rectify a negative situation. All of your subsequent postings on various channels can include a link to this page.  

#7 Deleting messages or updates is not a smart tactic. Say an employee has been conspicuously indiscreet on Twitter or elsewhere. It’s tempting to simply delete the offending message and pretend it never existed. Such an assumption is mistaken.

With any comment, “don’t assume someone hasn’t already taken a screenshot or that it’s not still lingering somewhere in a third-party application like Hootsuite waiting to be discovered by one of your followers,” says Travis Huff, CEO of Real-time Outsource. “The internet never forgets anything.”

Peter LaMotte is a Senior Vice President at LEVICK and Chair of the firm’s Digital Communications Practice. He is also a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.