Five ways to prepare for a social media crisis

Brands make a lot of noise about entering the social media foray and communicating with their communities online. But what happens when this goes wrong? What happens when the community bites back and starts to either attack the brand, or simply disagree with what the brand is saying?

A Process is needed!
Jeremiah Owyang, a renowned web strategist and partner at the Altimeter Group of San Meto, California in the United States, a group that prides itself on being a research-advisory firm that assists companies in coming to grips with disruptive technologies such as social media, has put together a Social Business Hierarchy of Needs. Essentially this is the hierarchy in which specific actions and steps need to be followed to ensure that your brand is ready for the free ranging world of social media.

Why do we need this? It is not like a crisis happens every day — especially within the social media space. But they do happen and when they do it is far better to be prepared than not.

Owyang defines three levels of social media crisis:

  1. Crises that result in negative coverage in mainstream media.
  2. Crises that result in negative coverage in mainstream media, and a significant response or change by the company.
  3. Crises that result in short-term financial impact.

1. Foundation
The foundation step is where you and your brand need to focus your attention from the get go. It is here where you ensure that those whom you decide should be running and engaging with your social platforms are:

  1. Given sufficient education on your brands stance on certain issues as well as guidelines as to what they can and cannot say.
  2. Given a large amount of coaching around the mediums on which they will be working (there is a difference between being a “social” user and a corporate user of social media).
  3. Access should be controlled and limited to these staff only to ensure that their efforts are not compromised.
  4. The objectives of what your social media efforts are trying to achieve need to be defined in great detail. This is critical to measuring the successes and failures of your social media as well as to guide those who are working with it on a daily basis.

2. Safety
Understanding what could go wrong and what your brand can do to solve these hypothetical situations is the next level. Be safe and secure in the knowledge that you have a plan for when things go wrong.

  1. Have an escalation process. This means having a chain of command of the right people who need to be alerted when something happens so that they can take decisive action before it results in a firestorm.
  2. By running through some scenarios, your brand can prepare itself for when things do go bad.

This is not to say that all social media campaigns can and will go wrong, but it is far better to be aware of what can go wrong than to live in a world of denial and then be caught with your proverbial pants down when things do get a little rough!

3. Formation
Here is where the business units need to come together to form an expert panel of what is happening within the organization as well as outside of it.

In other words; if this were a hotel; then the social media expert panel should be made up of the following people :

  • A social media ambassador: to spread the word and to physically engage with the audience.
  • A concierge: to bring in information about what guests are usually seeking information about when at the hotel.
  • A revenue manager: to bring an understanding of when there is availability that needs to be filled and at what rate those rooms can be offered
  • A marketing manager or general manager: to ensure that the overall objectives of the hotel are being met and that the offline and remainder of the online marketing is being conveyed to the group to ensure consistency of messaging.

This group would then be responsible for ensuring that the first two levels of this hierarchy are being fulfilled at all times.

4. Enablement
Let the social media team grow and fulfill their mandate. Here is where they physically start engaging with the community and interacting with potential and current clients. The bases have all been covered and in the event of anything potentially going wrong, there are contingency plans in place and escalation policies ready to be actioned.

5. Enlightenment
Arguably the most important step in the hierarchy. Learning from what is being said and how the general public is communicating needs to inform business process. This real-time market response is critical to ensure that the social media activity is not just that, “activity”.

How the issues, recommendations, learnings and criticism make it back in to how you do business is where the future growth and longevity of your brand lie.



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