Social media is being touted as a marketing nirvana, but it can also be your worst nightmare. The fear of a PR debacle starting a brush fire on the Internet consumes many execs in both marketing and PR. Why? Because social media is a powerful tool, and with all the sharing that takes place it’s incredibly easy for negative words to make the rounds instantly. Think of social media as a massive amplifier — you can no longer ignore events, take days to approve a response, or pretend it doesn’t exist. Social is real, and even the most trivial customer complaint can turn into a global boycott if not handled correctly.

Here are four ways that will help you navigate any crisis on social media:

1. Be Prepared

Build a social media plan. Think of the worst possible scenario your brand can face and then amplify it by however many fans your brand page has. Yeah, we’re serious. Obviously, you can’t predict events or situations, but have people in place and a plan of action (eg, who to contact first, who has the final approval, who is the backup, who will be responsible for posting, moderating, communicating, etc.) Once this plan is in place, make sure everyone on the social media, PR and marketing teams are up to speed.

2. Be Timely

Social media moves very quickly. It can snowball even quicker, and some fans will jump on a bandwagon before they even read through the issue at hand. As soon as you are aware of the debacle, refer to your plan immediately. Get a statement approved and post it as fast as possible in an effort to address concerns as soon as they arise.

3. Be Transparent

Honesty is critical when it comes to communicating with fans that are upset. Feeding them “canned” or insincere responses will not go over well. If you do not have a direct response to the issue at hand, it’s okay to let the fans know you’re listening and that you’re working on getting them answers.

4. Be Persistent

It may take more than one update to calm the troubled social media waters. Don’t give up, and don’t try and resume publishing your pre-scheduled content. It may take a couple days before all of the fans are satisfied (or even read) your response to the situation. Respond to users individually that have directly interacted with you. Continue posting your statement and any developments or other actions you may have taken to address the issue at hand. Of course, at some point, “the show must go on,” but wait until there is absolutely nothing else you can say or do.

Unlike traditional crisis management, which typically requires many procedures and approval processes, in social media you have to be ready to create content immediately. Don’t let this scare you, just be prepared.

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