Social Media Crisis Plan – Be Prepared (To Save Your Ass)

The power of social media is absolutely undeniable. (Don’t believe me? Just ask the senior editor of Rolling Stone or Juror B37.) So, you’d be wise to prepare for the worst. And that means developing a well-defined social media crisis plan.

Because an act of incompetence or a jerk move at a critical time could sink you.

rolling stone twitter conversation

Now, you may consider your business fairly innocuous. And your approach to social media? You think it’s pretty vanilla. Do you really need to invest the energy and resources into a social media crisis plan?

That’s a 10-4, good buddy.

The thing about social media is that it’s practiced by humans, and humans are fallible.  At some point, you’re bound to make a misstep, face criticism over a company policy, or a product or service will fail. That’s when someone will take their vitriol to the social media masses–and if their message goes viral, you’ll have a problem on your hands. A big one.

So, before that happens, gather everyone to the table—social media team and management—and develop a social media crisis plan well before you actually need it.

It will help ensure you respond quickly and appropriately, while keeping the Pepto-Bismal in the medicine cabinet where it belongs.

How do you get started? Simple.

Identify your social media crisis team

When it comes to dealing with a negative comments that could tarnish your company’s reputation, you’ll need to bring in the heavy hitters.

Your team will include your primary social media manager, department managers, corporate communications, and technical advisors (just in case you need to ensure responses are technically accurate.) If you have legal counsel, bringing them on-board would also be a wise idea.

Brainstorm expected negative feedback—and responses

It’s likely that you’ll face down the same five or ten negative comments (albeit in various forms) over and over. So, do your social media team a favor and work with them to generate some canned responses. That will allow them to confidently address Code Yellow messages without having to go on a wild goose chase for direction.

Of course, your social media team should never cut-and-paste those approved responses, but it does give them the foundational material they need to issue a timely, personalized reply.

If it’s relevant to the comment, including names, phone numbers, email addresses and/or contact form URLs to those canned responses can help your social media team further assist your community.

Define your social media crisis plan

Now, there may be some customer service issues that your frontline social media team can address without further direction, thanks to the work you’ve done above. Great.

However, if they come up against a more problematic comment—a Code Orange that requires a bit more of a tightrope walk—they could benefit from greater collaboration. The goal here is to respond swiftly and accurately to ensure that the social media kindling doesn’t become a full-blown firestorm.

These kinds of scenarios often involve brand flaming and serious product, service and support failures that aren’t easily addressed with the canned content your frontline team already has on-hand.

Social media escalation plan

A crisis response flowchart allows your social media team to rapidly respond to complaints, preventing damage to your brand.

So, before you run into a situation like this, you’ll want to have a few things hammered out:

  • How can the frontline social media team reach the crisis team—especially if a situation arises after normal business hours?
  • Once the crisis team has been notified, who will craft the response?
  • Who has final approval?
  • Who will actually respond to the commenter?

It’s not uncommon for several people within a company to have access to its social media accounts, so it’s critical that, during a crisis, one person is responsible for posting all crisis team-approved communications.

Otherwise, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and that could result in inconsistent messaging and tone, which open you up to further flaming.

This can be an especially significant problem when your social media and PR teams are siloed, so make sure they’re communicating between each other and broadcasting the same message to your audience.

An important note: You’ll want to give equal consideration to how you handle rave reviews, especially if they come from industry influencers. A little high-level glad-handing could be a real social media boon for your organization.

Responding effectively to negative social media comments

So, you’re staring down a disgruntled customer’s vitriol—and your entire Facebook (or Twitter, Google+, YouTube, etc.) community can see it.

What to do?

  • Never, ever, ever delete a negative comment. Unless the poster’s comment is dripping with profanity and hate speech, it’s far better to be transparent and let it ride. Nothing angers a commenter more than having their opinions and experiences negated, and if someone should capture a screenshot of the comment (and it happens often), it makes you look like you have something to hide.
  • Validation + authenticity for the big win. Is the complaint fair? Are the facts correct? Then, validate the commenter’s experience and let them know you’re taking action. And when their issue’s been addressed, make sure you follow up and thank them for bringing it to your attention. When your responses are genuine and you follow through on your promises, they’re far more likely to walk away feeling good about your brand.
  • Clear the air. On the other hand, sometimes you’ll be on the receiving end of complaints that are outside the realm of your control or where the situation has been misstated. In those instances, gently correct the misinformation and keep them engaged. Definitely help where you can.
  • Don’t be a jerk. Granted, this should go without saying, but it happens so often, I can’t let it go unsaid. (Check out Nestle’ and Applebee’s for examples of what not to do.) No matter what is being said about you or your company, sarcasm and superiority have no place in your response.
  • Turn off scheduled posts. If you’re in the midst of a major social media blunder, remember to turn off any scheduled posts. Your promotional content and your attempts to connect on a social level via silly cat videos will not go over well.

Breathe a sigh of relief—then, debrief

So you’ve survived (largely unscathed, we hope). Now what?

Your social media crisis plan should be a living, breathing document.

So, after each situation has been dealt with, reconvene the team for a debriefing and determine if any improvements can be made to your process. You’ll want to ask questions like:

  • How long did the comment linger before the social team discovered it?
  • How quickly was the crisis team alerted?
  • How long did it take for the crisis team to respond to the comment?
  • How did each member of the social media crisis team perform?
  • If any missteps were made, how can they be avoided the next time around?
  • How were the responses received by the commenter, and how might the corporate response be improved?
  • Most importantly, could the crisis have been avoided in the first place?

Does this seem like a chore? Maybe more trouble than it’s worth?

Think again.

A corporate stumble can quickly become a tragic and bloody plummet to death if handled poorly.

A social media crisis plan will be the safety net that keeps you from hitting the jagged rocks below.