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Social media SOS: Five top tips to manage a social media crisis

The explosion in the popularity of social network sites offers businesses exciting new opportunities to engage with customers. But dealing with something confidential and potentially harmful appearing online can be a serious risk. Without a fast response, such information could soon spread out of control and damage a business’s brand reputation in the eyes of consumers, as well as causing concern among investors and other stakeholders.

Here are our five top tips to help you identify and manage a social media crisis:

1. Learn to recognise a genuine crisis 

Learning to recognise what is and isn’t a crisis is important as it can help businesses direct their time and effort appropriately for maximum impact.

An uncomplimentary tweet from a disgruntled customer is not a crisis, it will be part of the general background social media traffic. But responding to it as though it was a crisis can, in some cases, cause it to escalate into one. Replying to the complainant in a prompt, polite and helpful manner can help resolve the issue quietly and quickly.

Leaked news about redundancies does constitute a crisis. It has the potential to materially damage the business’s reputation in the eyes of consumers and cause investors to panic. Time and resources should be directed towards tackling this type of issue as quickly as possible to limit its impact and sooth stakeholders. Ideally, any bad news should be handled proactively as a ‘leak’ can make people feel as if the company has attempted a cover up.

A company’s communications advisors can help distinguish a genuine crisis from a simple complaint.

2. Speaking with one voice

Social media as practically made everyone in an organisation a spokesperson. That’s why, as soon as a social media crisis hits a businesses should initiate a One Voice Policy. The policy will make sure that for the duration of the crisis at least, all communications are handled by the PR team alone. This ensures messaging is controlled, clear and effective.

A One Voice Policy needs to be communicated immediately to employees following the confirmation of a crisis. You won’t want employee status updates on Facebook further fanning the flames of the crisis. Explaining why they are being asked not to talk about the crisis outside on or off line – to protect them as well as the business - can encourage buy in and help repair any damage to employees’ relationship with the senior leadership team. 

3. Tackling the source

At the same time as dealing with internal communications, businesses should be formulating a plan to douse the social media flames at the source. The business should be ready as quickly as possible to acknowledge the crisis and provide sufficient information to sooth public curiosity and counter any negative publicity. The communications team can help here to put together an appropriate response to whatever the crisis is about and to disseminate it among the relevant media and social channels.

The business’s response should begin on the platform where the crisis began. This will maximise the effect of the counter campaign and help to prevent it spilling over onto other platforms. 

4. Good news goes far

Any bad news on social media can be countered with care via positive stories to mitigate any damage. Tweeting news of new products or promotions, or mentioning a new corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaign on Facebook can help provide a more balanced view of the business and put the crisis in perspective.

The good news campaign shouldn’t be focussed on one specific platform, but at a range of online and print media to ensure it reaches the target audience for maximum impact. This will also lay the foundations for the PR campaign to rehabilitate the business’s brand image once the media furore has blown over.

5. Learn lessons, be ready

Once the storm has subsided, it is vital that businesses take time to study the feedback at every stage of the crisis as well as website traffic patterns. Studying everything in detail, analysing its development and progress and working out which response worked and which didn’t will help businesses learn lessons about the best way to deal with problems in future.

Getting social media under control

Handling a social media crisis can be time consuming, fast-paced and sometimes stressful, but it is necessary to ensure the negative publicity is contained and safeguard the business’s wider brand image. Above all, preparation is the key to good and effective crisis response. Businesses should work closely with their communications team to ensure that they have the plans in place to control a social media crisis before one ever happens.

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.