Social media during a crisis can either bury you or save you. As a CHRO, you know that any crisis potentially can result in severe reputational damage to your midsized organization, resulting in a litany of woes that could include lost customers, regulatory enforcement actions, lawsuits, reduced employee morale, diminished recruiting effectiveness or worse. You also know how increasingly important social media has become as an engagement tool for your stakeholders.
Social media during a crisis offers you two options: you can either use it to regain control of your message or have it work aggressively against you, accelerating and intensifying rumors that could potentially paralyze your organization.
Here are six suggestions for using social media effectively in any business/PR crisis:
1. Build Platforms to Engage Your Stakeholders
A necessary first step well before a crisis hits is to make sure you already have mature platforms in place in all relevant social channels and have built a strong community of stakeholders around your offerings. This is the foundation you will count on before and after a crisis occurs. It helps ensure that you'll have a prominent voice in the public conversation during any crisis.
2. Use Social Media as a Listening Tool
In the era of Big Data analytics, it's never been easier to monitor what people are saying about your organization online. Listening to this social chatter (via keywords) will help you better understand your customers and what they like and don't like about you. In a crisis, you can expect your detractors to be sharpening and launching their attacks, so it's best if you know who and where they are beforehand.
Social listening will allow you to identify and engage with both your advocates and your detractors long before any crisis. Those social media conversations, especially with detractors, will accelerate quickly as a crisis develops. According to the book "Social Media ROI," as reported by the Keyhole blog, "because of the speed with which a negative news item can spread, organizations need to constantly monitor social web channels for signs of trouble."
3. Set Clear Policies for Action
Before you can take action in a crisis, you need to have plans already in place to decide why, when and how you'll respond. For example, you don't need to respond to everyone, just messages and sources who truly impact the social media conversation against you. You should never dignify and encourage professional complainers with a response. When you argue, you lose credibility with the general public.
4. Create a Defined Digital Response Person or Team
You want people with strong knowledge of your organization's strengths and strategies to be your spokespeople on social media during a crisis. Have one social media voice in a crisis that understands your game plan and makes sure everyone inside your organization supports a unified front for communications. No mixed messages or freelancing allowed. Refer all social media-related issues to your designated person or team.
5. Acknowledge the Crisis
You should also set up a response page on your website and use your social media channels to push people (and media) there. A simple message should suffice: "We are aware of the problem and are working now to resolve it as soon as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience." As your response to the crisis develops, be sure to update your response page continuously with the latest credible information. You want to be the go-to source of information.
According to the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, "Sharing available information openly and honestly before and during a crisis is vital in minimizing additional threats as well as meeting the public's need for information so they do not turn to other sources. Once an organization is no longer considered a source of trustworthy information, management of the crisis is lost."
6. Learn From Your Mistakes
Develop different crisis scenarios based on previous experiences and practice responding to them via drills and table exercises. Evaluate your social media response and incorporate lessons learned into a continuously updated crisis communication plan. Forewarned is forearmed, and simulations/role plays can sharpen the effectiveness of your organizational response.
Depending on the nature of the crisis, you'll need to be agile and remain flexible in your response, which is why practice and training matter. Social media, if managed well, can act as water to douse a fire or, when managed badly, can add fuel to that fire.
It's up to you to decide which it will be.
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