It used to be that crisis communications managers had the power to “beat” the media cycle. They had a window of time, albeit small, to gather the crisis team in a war room and assess the situation in order to craft and refine key message points for reporters.
The proliferation of citizen journalism and social media has changed how crises are covered, yet a majority of companies have not updated their crisis communications plan to reflect new strategies and techniques. A recent study conducted by Gartner Communications revealed that 84.8 percent of companies worldwide have a general crisis communications plan; however, only 20.7 percent of them have a social media crisis plan.
Below are eight steps to remember when implementing a crisis communications plan in today’s environment:
- Act quickly – The “golden hour” of a traditional crisis communications plan is gone. After assessing the situation, respond as quickly as possible in a rational, respectful manner.
- Listen and engage – Understand the motivation behind the posts. Know what is being said and why, and respond appropriately.
- Be open and human – People want to see a human response to a crisis, not a formulaic or canned reply. Gauge the sentiment in people’s posts, and validate their emotions in your response. If the company is in the wrong, admit it. The two little words that can quickly dispel a social media crisis are, “I’m sorry.”
- Use your judgment – Not every negative comment requires a response. Look at a person’s history and their number of followers. If they consistently post negative remarks, think twice about engaging with them. Do engage with someone who has a respectable track record, and know when to disengage. Sometimes continued contact can be counterproductive.
- Fix the problem – If the crisis is bringing a problem to your attention, admit it, address it, and fix it. If something isn’t really wrong but someone perceives that it is wrong, remember that perception is everything. Take the opportunity to educate them in a helpful, considerate way.
- Allow negative comments – Do not delete negative comments. You will only fuel the fire. People will post negative comments elsewhere and voice their opposition to your company for deleting their original posts.
- Know when to take it offline – If there is one person leading the cause, suggest a one-on-one conversation via phone or e-mail. Remember that e-mails can be reposted, so be careful what you type.
- Become the information hub – Create a page where you post stories on the issue, both positive and negative. Bring in a Twitter feed and other real-time feeds of people talking about the issue. You can’t control the conversation, but you can control the placement of the conversation on your page. Make your opinion prominently seen.
Is your company prepared for a crisis played out in social media? To ensure an “issue” doesn’t escalate into a crisis, it is mandatory to monitor key social media outlets 24/7. There are several free tools available such as Google Alerts, Technorati, and Blogpulse. For companies with a budget for monitoring, check out BuzzLogic, Radian6, and Trackur.
— Debbie Dryden, VP, Thought Leadership