Are You Ready For A Social Media Crisis?

The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry
(“Of Mice and Men”, John Steinbeck).

As much as anyone in a marketing or sales position would not like to admit, this prediction sometimes becomes reality.

With the impressive growth that social media has gained in the last couple of years, crisis faced by brands have changed completely. It’s no longer about a critical issue with your service or your entire line of products. Any bad comment spread can become now the seed of a huge social media crisis. Adapting and mitigating any negative effects is difficult, as it takes strong insights and a sustained effort to react properly in a short time.

This however can also present an upside: if you put the correct responses into action, not only the disaster can be averted, but your social media presence may actually increase due to interest over your response.

This being said, let’s have a look at the standard steps for managing a social media crisis, that should help you save time, guesswork, and potential clients:

  1. Develop an internal crisis plan

All campaigns have a certain level of risk in the social media sector. So, you should always take a realistic approach by first identifying any potential weaknesses. Such pitfalls include a lot of variables. It could be a network server crashing immediately before rolling out a much anticipated product update. What will you do if a dissatisfied customer defames your brand across all social networks?

Well, you’d better be looking in your crisis plan and follow the guidelines there instead of trying to put up some last minute tactics to solve the problem.

When developing your crisis plan, you should consider the following actions:

  • Set up an alert procedure for problem spotted by your social media monitoring team,
  • Designate a stand-by crisis team that includes both spokespersons and technicians,
  • Determine their roles and the internal communication flow,
  • Schedule periodic analyses of recent social media crises encountered by other brands.

Although these are but a handful of possible actions, by taking into account such circumstances you can prepare your brand for providing an efficient response to a crisis.

  1. Assess the different threat levels

So you have prepared a crisis plan, an your first social media crisis is knocking on the door. At this point, it’s important to correctly estimate the level of the crisis. Is the negative social media presence caused by:

  • a faulty product or service
  • a communication mistake made by your staff, or
  • an angry customer having a bad day?

If not approached properly, any of these levels may result in an overall flawed social campaign, with severe implications on the long term.

Below I added a short list with case studies describing how each crisis level was handled by other brands:

Faulty product or service

Earlier this year, Go Daddy faced a major disruption of their service. In short, millions of websites were shut down for several hours. Here is how they managed to turn a serious crisis on Twitter into a reputation lesson.

Communication mistake

Did you ever mixed up the messages while managing multiple Twitter accounts? :) Well, it happened for the Red Cross too, and the message that went out from the wrong account was not pretty at all. Here is how they handled the accidental tweet.

Angry customers

Mobile phone not working is a critical issue that can drive anyone mad. However, when the situation lasts more that a day, things can get really nasty on social. This happened to O2, a mobile phones company in the UK. Here is how they brilliantly handled the “colorful” tweets.

  1. Prepare a unified response and do not waiver

The last thing an ailing social media campaign needs is a disheveled response. To avoid this, the responsibility to social engagement should be delegated to one person alone. This can help guarantee consistency in addressing any problems and give the real appearance of internal coordination.

In situations like this, it is important to remember that viewers on social media platforms will gauge the success of the response on these variables. Simply stated, centralization and consistency will breed positive results.

Here is an example of how Not to communicate during a social media crisis:

In April 2011, a drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Although having an active Twitter account, BP was silent for several days and did not communicate anything on this environment. And when they did, the message actually pointed to a press release on the accident. 10 days later however, BP’s CEO said the accident was not theirs. You can read here the entire story.

  1. Never shut down conversations

It’s always wise to consider the world of social media as the “big brother” of marketing campaigns. Your responses are seen by any and all relevant stakeholders or potential clients. Therefore, it’s (almost :) ) always a fatal decision to cease correspondence with a disgruntled party, removing the comments from the public eye or to argue openly in an attempt to refute a statement.

Remember the Red Cross example from Step 2? They took the risk of removing the faulty comment and turned everything into a success story. But this is not how it usually works when shutting down conversations.

I’m sure everyone remembers the Nestle disaster back in 2010, when their social media representative was rude to people writing on the company Facebook page. Here is the full story covered.

  1. Perform a post-crisis evaluation

This step is crucial to social media crisis management. It’s a fact that social media is a constantly evolving platform, so what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. But evaluating different aspects of a situation (positive and negative need to be considered equally) does help avoiding similar mistakes in the future.

Here is a short list of questions you should consider when evaluating a social media crisis:

  • How fast was the crisis team alerted
  • Did everyone know what they were supposed to do
  • Was the crisis caused by a technical failure or by human fault
  • Was the public informed accurately and in due time
  • Could the crisis have been avoided

Back to you

Have you faced a social media crisis recently? I’d love to hear about your personal experiences. What worked and what didn’t?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below:

Photo credits: Vancouver Film School

About Aura Dozescu

Aura Dozescu is the Dir. of Business Development for the AWR Cloud. Passionate about Internet Marketing and SEO technologies, she is working closely with seo software developers to implement the feedback received from customers. Connect with her on Google+

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    One thing I have noticed with crisis management is that a company needs to continually update their social profiles with the same unified message because social media is updating around the clock. Take Twitter for example, if a company sends a tweet out at 9am apologizing for a network issue or a typo on an advertisement, by 10am that message will be buried by the multitude of other Tweets in the Twitterverse. Continually posting information reassures your followers that you are aware of the situation and are working to reach a resolution.