The role of social media in crisis communications

The role of social media in crisis communications

Anyone in Public Relations knows what it’s like dealing with a PR crisis. But since brands and consumers are more interconnected then ever before through social media, the same reasons that make social media so powerful for brands can also be the reasons it can cause real problems. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone at Netflix or Papa John’s.

Samantha Owens Pyle identifies 3 ways social media has impacted the way PR professionals manage social media crisis:

– Social media is being used for good during natural disasters and crises.
– Social media has caused the crisis.
– Social media has added fuel to make the crisis even worse.

6 steps to a strong crisis communications plan for social:
  1. Develop a company wide crisis communications plan: Identify what situations would require your organisation to comment and provide a statement, and on which occasions you’ll decline to comment. For example; most policies include never deleting negative comments; rather try and get the conversation offline.
  2. Share knowledge: You need to make sure that your social media/community manager is knowledgeable of company stance on certain topics and how they respond. Or, at the very least this person has the correct spokesperson on speed dial to access the correct information in a timely manner.
  3. Do not promote or sell: If you are running a competition or promoting a new product via scheduled updates, remove them immediately. Social media is real time and during a time of crisis it is in bad taste to promote your company or brand and you’ll only end up offending people or opening up to criticism.
  4. Create a timely response deadline: Social media is instant. Issues will snowball out of control if they’re not managed correctly and the public can jump on the bandwagon before they have even got the facts. It’s vital to set an ideal response time for all comments, whether positive or negative. For example, plan to give an initial response within an hour and having the issue resolved or being managed within 24hours. This will satisfy the consumer that their complaint is at least being dealt with. Trolling however is a different story. Read here about managing trolls.
  5. Be transparent: Be honest with your fans. Say the two magic words “I’m sorry”. Don’t give them a canned response. The best advice is to acknowledge it, and be honest about how you plan to rectify the situation. “Be in front with acceptance of responsibility and delivery of knowledge with stunning alacrity, and you may intercept the fire while it’s still just a few sparks” says Christopher Penn, Vice President of Shift Communications.
  6. Be consistent: You might have the same comment or issue appear more than once. So too, you might have to deal with the same complainant more than once before the issue is resolved. Stand firm to your “rules” and ensure that each “crisis” is given the same level of importance. You cannot predict which issue one could potentially go viral and spiral from a complaint to an all out social media war!

More reading: 

What does a PR professional do anyway?
Brands have nowhere to hide
7 deadly sins PR agencies commit
PR Professionals: Adapt or die!
PR Agencies: Why your staff are leaving
PR professionals: What works best for you? Agency or in-house?


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