6 Tips for Managing a Social Media Crisis

By Katie Soltas | 3.29.16

One of my most influential mentors once told me, “Each crisis a PR person goes through is another earned notch in her belt.”

While crises can take a toll on company operations and reputation, successfully managing each situation is one of the best forms of professional development.

Working in the Hawaiian Islands for nearly eight years provided many interesting and downright scary opportunities to earn my belt notches.

Some of my most memorable crisis moments include: supporting the preparation of a naval nuclear facility for an impending tsunami after the 2011 Fukushima Japan incident, managing professional protesters against my ag biotech client, and weathering (pun intended) an assortment of natural disasters on the Big Island such as hurricaneslava flows, and a dengue fever outbreak while representing a resort.

18202561665_7260185401_b

Crises can occur in many varieties of businesses, from small nonprofits to large corporations. One thing is for certain: what begins as a microscopic problem can quickly turn into a colossal crisis in the digital age.

Former vice president of corporate affairs for Mattel, Dallas Lawrence, said that social media plays three roles during a crisis: an instigator, an accelerant and most importantly, an extinguisher.

Because misinformation can so easily spread across social networks, social media management becomes a key player in mitigating a crisis.

Below are six best practices I’ve learned throughout my career when managing social media channels during a crisis:

  1. Anticipate the crisis, and be proactive in your approach. 
    This attitude should not be “if,” but “when” a crisis will occur for your business.As digital media guru Peter Lamotte writes, you most likely can’t prevent a crisis, but you can prepare for one.

    Establish a plan with template posts for different scenarios; identify team members who will lead monitoring efforts; practice timed drills and exercises to ensure a quick response during the real deal.

    emergency-plan

     

  2. Stop the Sprinklr.
    Or HootsuiteSproutSocial, etc. Whatever platform you use to schedule posts, pause your scheduled activity as soon as trouble brews.Manually managing accounts guarantees the most control over messaging.In a grim situation where people are getting hurt, money is being lost or worse, the last thing followers want to see is a post about an upcoming promotional event or a #TBT photo of last night’s sunset.Most importantly, it shows respect for the situation at hand.
  3. Consistency is key.
    Ensure your social media messaging is concise, factual and aligned with holding statements prepared for print and broadcast media and the company website.According to a Washington Post article citing the Indiana University School of Journalism’s statistics, more than 50 percent of journalists use Twitter as a source of information in their stories.Translation: social media news can become real news.

    This video of my client’s monk seal went viral, and we received press inquiries from national media outlets.

    Most PR pros would consider this a good thing, but the incident attracted negative attention from environmentalists claiming his captivity led to the spinning. In fact, the seal was simply very old and resorting to behavior he performed as a young pup.

    Maintaining this truth throughout our channels allowed us to control the message.

  4. Only post on behalf of your organization.
    Never risk getting tangled in a web of rumors and technical language when the topic is not your jurisdiction.Let the appropriate authorities speak on behalf of emergency situations, and direct your followers to those websites with helpful links.This past fall, a dengue fever outbreak on Big Island worried many incoming resort guests at my resort. In an AP interview, I let the reporter know what we were doing as preventative measures, but directed questions about the virus itself to the State Department of Health.

    This technique was mirrored on our Facebook page.

  5. Be responsive.
    Treat your social media channels like the frontline of customer service during a crisis, especially on Twitter and Facebook.If necessary, set up shifts for round-the-clock surveillance. Monitor and respond in a timely matter. Take the time to research relevant questions and provide factual answers.
  6. Avoid emotional arguments with antagonists.
    It’s unethical to take down comments unless the follower uses vulgarity or violates company employee privacy.However, it is your job to correct misinformation and provide updates to the public.

    For example, view this widely criticized Tinder case study to see its emotional Twitter rant in response to a negative story.