Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media

Forbes Magazine recently published an excellent series of the Do’s and Don’ts of Corporate Social Media which, spoke in part about managing issues and protecting brand reputations in the age of instant information.

One of the key points raised is that while good news travels fast today, bad news travels faster.

What can happen to that information, in a social-networked world, one still considered the “Wild West” by many, can be a truly frightening prospect to brands. The idea of a brand, carefully cultivated over decades or in some cases over hundreds of years, coming undone in an instant because of one angry customer, one misstep, or one piece of misinformation, can be paralyzing to brands.  At Strategic Objectives, we still regularly interact with clients who would prefer to stay out of the social web, rather than losing even a small degree of brand control.

Davia Temin, the Forbes series author, has good advice about the do’s and don’ts of corporate social media, which you can find here, but what caught our attention was the conversation that followed the piece.  Responding to a reader who wondered what to do about companies who are too afraid or unwilling to get social, Davia points out that the deciding factor, eventually, will be opportunity cost.

Those who are willing to engage will reap the benefits of connecting with consumers in a new meaningful way. Those who chose to sit on the sidelines will no doubt face situations similar to history’s failed captains of industry- sliding into obscurity and irrelevance by not adapting to new market realities.

In the case of crisis issues management, ignoring your online community can come at a heavy price.

Strategic Objectives has built a reputation for crisis management excellence over the decades as we continue to work with some of Canada’s biggest brands. What surprises some clients when we speak about crisis communication strategies and social media, is that while the speed of all processes involved has revved up dramatically, effective strategies for managing a crisis remain largely the same.  Here is some of the advice we share with our clients:

  • The best crisis management strategies are developed before you have a crisis. Preparing in advance is the best policy.

Have a mock crisis day where your organization runs through everything from a product issue to global war.  Many of the scenarios you practice will never occur, but you’ll sleep more soundly knowing your organization could meet them confidently, should they arise.

  • Listen to expert advice encouraging brands to engage in social networks.

Not only are you opening a world of marketing and customer service excellence opportunity, but you’ll build real relationships with consumers.  Earning their trust in advance will pay off in spades when you really need it.

  • Develop plans for everyone in your organization from the CEO to the front desk receptionist, and most importantly your customer service and social media teams.

Yes, your senior team will need to be thoroughly prepared to answer questions and manage the situation, but it’s the customer service staff who will field the calls from concerned consumers.  Making sure they are prepared with the appropriate information and direction on how to handle customer concerns can stem a potential flood of negative tweets, posts and calls.

Make sure your social media team and customer service teams are working together to monitor the situation—the cross sharing of online and off-line information will give you the full picture of consumer sentiment and help you to prepare a thoroughly flushed out response strategy.

  • Choose the right person to monitor your social media channels and ensure he/she has the experience, knowledge and expertise to answer consumer questions and concerns.

When your Twitter feeds start blazing with messages, and posts and comments hit your Facebook page, there will be no time for the legal team to carefully review each question and each answer.  Selecting the right partner (internal or external) to serve as your front-line defense will be crucial.  You need to prepare your social media brand representative, and give them the flexibility to answer consumers in real time.  Making the conversation timely, open and honest will be your best tool in preventing a “flame war.”

This should go without saying, but unfortunately still needs to be pointed out:  the role of your social media front-line crisis defense should never be entrusted to an intern or junior, no matter how socially-savvy they appear. They simply do not have the experience and insight necessary in such a crucial time.

  • Assign someone to monitor your social media channels.

We are constantly surprised by companies who do not monitor what’s being said about their brand online. Just because you might wish to ignore the conversation about your brand, does not mean it’s not there.  Use it to the benefit of your company; all those posts and tweets are valuable customer insight. Free, valuable customer insight.

There are nuances to managing an online crisis that are particular to each brand, but we can assure you that these best practices form an excellent foundation for successfully managing issues in today’s hyper-connected world.

We appreciate your comments and opinions. What advice would you like to share?

By: Strategic Objectives