Good communication with your stakeholders or interested parties during a crisis is fundamental to an effective crisis response and managing your business’ reputation. Although there are well-documented examples where social media content has amplified or even precipitated incidents, its speed and reach mean it also provides a powerful new channel for disseminating information, gauging reaction or spreading your message in the aftermath of a crisis.
With over 500 million active Tweeters and more than 900 million Facebook users worldwide, it is essential to understand the potential impact of social media on outside perceptions of your organisation. Here are some useful points to consider when integrating social media into your crisis communications plan.
1: HAVE A PLAN
Think how many times you’ve conducted a bomb drill, fire evacuation or rehearsed for a tangible crisis. Like it or not, social media is now an integral part of life and business. If you use any aspects of this channel, ensure it is included in your Crisis Communications Plan and rehearsed to trouble-shoot any pitfalls. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you know who specifically ‘owns’ your organisational Twitter account?
- Have you ever rehearsed your use of social media?
- Do you have an established protocol?
- Do you have a catalogue of pre-agreed Tweets/ blogs/ Facebook updates at hand to inform your customers or other stakeholders when the time comes?
- Do the right people have the log in details?
Be clear about what your company policies are on the use of social media, and be sure they are understood by all your staff.
2: LOOK, LISTEN, REACT
During an incident it is considered best practice to nominate an individual to monitor social networks, regardless of whether you actively engage in social media or not. Monitoring social media can teach you a lot about the public’s perception, providing a new stream of real-time information to support decision-making and inform responses – through either traditional media or social media if you have an active engagement strategy. Even if you do not proactively engage, you must have the capability to monitor it. Popular free tools such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Google News Alerts make this a straightforward first step.
3: BE CONSIDERED
It is essential that you maintain control during a crisis, never tweet in panic or anger. If you choose a social media channel to communicate with the blogosphere, for example, remember that this is your brand ‘speaking’ to your customers and other interested people. In your capacity as a participant, ensure you represent your organisation in a considered and measured manner, but adapt your style to the more informal language.
4: BE CONSISTENT
During any crisis, the Holy Grail of crisis communications is to have one consistent, coordinated message. In the event of an incident, all social media business-as-usual should be put on hold and a Social Media Guru (or small, close-working team of experts depending on the size of the organisation and/or incident) should be nominated to coordinate every media output you decide to use, to ensure there is one consistent message. This person or team should work in close proximity to the broader communications team for advice and approval.
5: BE PROACTIVE
The rise of this ‘new’ media has provided everyone with a voice. Just as you would aim to be proactive with the mainstream press, do the same with the social media ‘press’ and, in an appropriate fashion, get them on your side. Companies and organisations can benefit hugely from the positive ability of the social networks to disseminate key messages in support of their crisis response and benefit from the speed and reach of these channels. Engage with the public where possible, and if they have genuine problems or enquiries, try and answer them or steer them to a helpline or useful source of information. The more of the public you have on your side the more support you will have. If you do not provide the online population with information, they might do as the press sometimes do, and either find someone who will provide information in your place or simply speculate.
Social media allows communication amongst individuals and groups on a totally new level, through the sheer speed of dissemination, the numbers it can reach and the imaginations it can capture. It allows people experiencing an event to report it (and their perceptions of what is being reported) as it happens.
Actively launching into the social realm is not going to be the right course of action for every organisation, but actively considering how to approach this channel in your crisis management planning is highly recommended.
More broadly, even if the decision is against active social media engagement, you can still benefit from the utility of information that social media provides. It can be a powerful means of communicating with consumers, protagonists or detractors; or equally, a powerful source of information to develop a “from the coal-face” understanding of a situation.