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Developing a Social Media Crisis Plan

Social media crises are inevitable, so your organization needs a plan. Deciding who does what and when ahead of time provides you with the best chance of navigating any crisis for both your organization’s and audiences’ benefit.

Responding to mentions, comments, and questions on social media is an important aspect of your social media strategy. Having a successful social media response strategy in place is essential. However, what about the times when a crisis arises? How will you manage the situation and mitigate the damage to your organization and your affected users? Creating a social media crisis response plan before anything happens allows you to be better prepared for any situation. With a crisis response strategy on hand, you’ll tackle issues more confidently and give your team the tools they need to respond quickly and appropriately.

Define a potential crisis

A crisis can mean different things for different people and organizations. Large crises—like a pandemic—are easy to identify. However, to plan for any crisis that may arise, you’ll need to create a framework to decide how serious they may be. Think about what the “lightest life” issue that would count as a crisis for you may be. A disgruntled user replying to all of your posts?

As a rule of thumb, do not count mean or negative comments as a crisis, and include this reminder in your social media response strategy so that no one overreacts in the moment. If, however, a significantly-negative turn takes place in an online conversation, be aware and monitor it. When something negatively affects your entire organization, its reputation, or brand loyalty in the long term, that is a crisis.

Establish a chain of command

Expressly write up who in your team should be contacted depending on the crisis scenario. Make sure to include:

  • Who decides it is a crisis
  • Who is in charge of informing up the chain
  • How high up the information needs to go
  • Who needs to approve resolution actions

No matter the structure of your organization, an established line of communication between offices or departments for social media crises is essential. Agree on a process as soon as possible, so that when a crisis does occur, everyone involved in the resolution can reach each other. Contact information for all critical stakeholders should be up-to-date and adjusted after any staffing change or role adjustments. 

Carefully use templated replies

It’s not a bad idea to think through how you will address an issue by brainstorming wording and a response structure. You can plan ahead for the desired phrasing so that when the time comes, you’re not starting from scratch. However, it won’t be helpful to write up generic responses to be used no matter what the issue. Every response should be tailored and fit the severity of the issue.  If you create a template, it should focus more on the structure of your response. Your statement template could be as simple as:

  • Acknowledge the issue 
  • Summarize the issue in two sentences
  • Explain what steps you’re taking to resolve it
  • Outline action steps for your audience to take 
  • Develop thank you messages

An example statement:

“We are aware of the situation <insert situation> regarding issue A and its relation to B. Our team is working to gain more information in order to assess the implications, which include… For more information, please contact us here… Thank you to everyone who has brought this to our attention.”

Identify potential issues with social listening tools

Social listening tools can help identify possible issues before they turn into a crisis. You can use social listening to track untagged brand mentions and they can alert you if there’s an uptick in social mentions or a change in sentiment. These tools allow you to immediately start looking into what people are saying about your organization and identify if there is any negative reason behind a surge in social activity. If it does turn into a crisis, then you’ll be able to catch emerging issues early and set your response strategy in motion before the issue peaks. 

Create an internal communications plan

In a crisis, you need to not only communicate with the public, but with your own employees. Update your employees on what is going on throughout the process. All employees are brand ambassadors, and if they’re contacted about the crisis, they need to respond in a way that reflects your organization’s overall stance. If they don’t know about the crisis or what your organization is doing about it, then they run the risk of accidentally addressing it unknowingly or putting out a message that is inconsistent with your organization’s response. 

Decide on design

When creating your social media crisis plan, consider creating a process to get designers involved in resolution efforts. If a tragedy occurs that directly impacts your organization or the issue area you work in, you may want to adjust your visuals to fit the situation. This may mean creating a more pared-down version of your social media icons, changing your Facebook and/or Twitter cover image, or creating a situation-specific infographic. Deciding and writing out a process related to design now, will allow your designers to act quickly and know their role. 

Your social media crisis response strategy needs to fit your organization’s structure, needs, and means. Precise planning will save you time, stress, and energy and place your organization in the best position to handle a crisis successfully.

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