Social Media CrisisNearly every organization at some point will have to deal with adversity — whether it’s a minor incident that barely attracts attention or a major event that makes national headlines and is splashed across the entire internet. At the rate of speed that news now spreads — from instant worldwide web headlines to social media word-of-mouth — having an online crisis plan in place is a necessity. The more prepared you are, the quicker and more effectively disruptions can be managed and resolved.

When dealing with a disrupting event those blows-up online, organizations should follow some fundamental guidelines. They include:

1. Actively Listen for company or organization “brand” mentions

If you want to mitigate trouble online, you first must to be alert to what is being said about your organization. Are online conversations taking place about your “brand?” If so, are they positive or negative? The very first step is a swiftly executed online review and analysis.

2. Check Your Social Spaces daily

Since the bulk of crisis situations usually end up your own social media pages, it’s important to constantly monitor what people are commenting and sharing. Look for trends of dissatisfaction or negativity and work to anticipate potential adversity.

3. Have A Consistent Presence

Nothing looks worse than an organization that never communicates except when it is absolutely forced to do so — it appears insincere. An active and steady presence on the social pages you own will help you be better prepared for a potential crisis. Regular engagement humanizes a brand and affords credibility with followers. If you are transparent, authentic, honest and respectfully interact with followers, it will go a long way when a crisis happens because you will have already developed a sense of familiarity and trust.

4. Respond Swiftly and Honestly

This is perhaps one of the most important ways to avoid a crisis. People want to be heard. They want an organization to respond. Just like with the news media, even if you don’t have an immediate answer, just letting them know you are listening and care about what’s going on, will help soften stressful situations.

5. Include Your Communications and Legal Teams

Being prepared for an online crisis means establishing a protocol in advance that includes not only your social/online specialists, but also your public relations, communications and legal teams. Concise, clear messaging that is consistent with the rest of an organization’s policies and positions is essential to any crisis strategy. Never attempt to engage in dialogue during a crisis until it is certain that messaging is in alignment throughout the organization. One wrong word has the potential to intensify a crisis, or worse, create another separate issue.

6. Have a Plan of Action

Make certain you have a detailed plan on how you will execute if an online crisis occurs. Make it available to everyone within your organization that will have input and outline a specific procedure that incorporates an established chain-of-command. Key points include:

  • Establishing the crisis team. In addition to your online, PR and legal teams, think about who else needs to be included. Consider every area of your organization — executive leadership, customer service, human resources, sales and marketing, finance, operations, and internal communication. Your team could look like this: management, head of marketing, PR or communications, legal counsel and leaders of the unit(s) or division(s) potentially impacted by a crisis.
  • Knowing the chain of command in a crisis. What should the approval process look like? Who should be responsible for collecting all the initial information? Who is in charge of developing drafts of statements or responses? Who has final say? All of these are questions that need to be answered as part of a plan. Having approved procedures in place ahead of time is key to responding in a timely and accurately manner.
  • Brainstorming potential scenarios and responses. In any organization, there are dozens — if not more — of potential situations that could develop into a crisis. Work with your team to identify these scenarios and develop a “response template.” The more preparation you can do ahead of time, the more accurately you will be able to respond.

An online or social media crisis can come from anywhere, at anytime. Are you prepared?