It’s incredible how over just two decades, social media has changed the way companies conduct business, from how to spend money on advertising, to handling customer service queries and much more.
The ability to reach people directly has undoubtedly created opportunities for companies and brands seeking to create relationships with customers and brand loyalty. But at the same time, the ‘social’ and often viral nature of these platforms can have a downside for organisations. It makes it much easier for people to call out companies when they disagree with the way they have behaved.
This level of online visibility also means that a tiny mistake, faux pas or misinterpreted comment can quickly turn sour. Just read Buzzfeed’s 29 stages of a Twitter storm if you want a step-by-step guide of how badly things go wrong on the internet in 2018. With this in mind, here’s a 5-step best practice guide on how to handle a social media crisis if it happens to you.
The first, most essential point; do not panic. Panicky messages or updates to consumers, customers or even competitors are likely to exacerbate the situation. Keep calm and try and figure out what’s gone wrong.
It’s also worth remembering that there’s a big difference between a few negative tweets and true crisis. If it’s just a few angry posts, see if the issue can be resolved off the platform. Respond to them calmly and politely and ask them to DM (direct message) you with further information about what’s happened.
It’s important to note that a “social media” catastrophe is not actually any different to any other kind of crisis. If it’s a full-on crisis, you need a full-on strategy - Xanthe’s recent crisis comms blog covers all the key points if it’s an organisational emergency.
Her first tip would be not to speculate – this will land you in deeper trouble if you end up being wrong. Also, make sure to communicate the situation to your colleagues before you discuss it with anyone else, or put any information about the crisis up on social.
If it starts to feel like a Twitter storm, don’t try to respond to every tweet or comment because that’s probably not the best use of your resources. Total silence is seldom helpful though. It’s important to let your followers know that you haven’t just gone to ground. Instead, issue regular announcements about the situation – and let people know when they can expect the next one.
If a rumour starts that is completely untrue, deny it straightaway. If you’re not sure, issue a holding announcement letting your followers know you’re looking into it. Once you’ve then figured out what’s gone wrong, work out a way to communicate it honestly and effectively with your customers.
As social platforms are instant, it’s important to continue monitoring the situation across every channel that you have a presence on. It may seem obvious but remaining on top of everything that’s coming out is really important and often overlooked. It might be worth allocating more people to your social media for this time, such as one employee for each channel. Use your monitoring tools and designate individuals to inform your crisis team of what’s going on.
As Xanthe points out, the most important thing to do is sort out the original problem. Although your company’s reputation is obviously important, you have to make sure you’ve dealt with the actual issue in the right way, otherwise the problem won’t go away and you’re just going to have another crisis on your hands later down the line.
Eryl Bradley is a senior account executive at Fourth Day.