Let’s put things in perspective: we’ve all heard about social media crises, and what companies need to do to prevent them. However, if we look at the definition of a crisis: “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger”,we need to be careful not to create storms in teacups.

Not every negative comment on a company Facebook page, or an abusive tweet, as horrible as it might be to be on the receiving end, equates to a crisis. PR professionals will tell you there are numerous ways to deal with public comments, but the first decision you need to make is quite simple: to respond, or not to respond.

A real crisis, from a social media perspective, tends to escalate when companies choose NOT to respond, or their response is late or inadequate.

Negative customer feedback is part of life, and we should all embrace negative feedback as an opportunity to grow and provide better customer service.

Before we look at various crisis situations, and how to deal with them, some fundamentals need to be in place first:

  1. We need to be tuned in and listen for feedback. Having a monitoring or alert system in place to find where our customers are leaving feedback is, as mentioned above, fundamental!
  2. Having a policy in place will help frontline employees deal with feedback. An escalation plan is important too, when things get serious.
  3. Response Library – some feedback responses can be “canned”, or prepared in advance. This will help the team prevent a minor incident from blowing up into a WW3.

Once you’re tuned to the market and listening in, with a policy guiding your team how to deal with negative social media commentary, we can start looking deeper.

Monitoring Social Media

Social media listening is especially important when crafting your social media crisis management framework. Without it, early warning signs of a developing crisis are usually missed. There are a variety of free tools available which will send you an alert when your search term is mentioned. These include Google Alerts,Mention, and Twitter.

Using specialised software or an external digital agency will help monitor a wider variety of search terms across the entire web, and identify conversations about your company in real time. It goes without saying that you need to be especially tuned in to your own social media assets (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, etc.), and follow the discussions directed at you and your company.

Social Media Policy

Most employees wouldn’t change their online behaviour just because of company policy. In saying that, if a company isn’t providing guidelines and policies to their employees, there is little recourse in case of brand, reputation or other damages.  Therefore, we need to provide guidance to our team, helping them understand the correlation between their online activities and the long-term effect on them personally, and the company they are with.

The policy applies to all employees, executives and contractors, from the time they become contractually associated with your company, until they have disassociated themselves from the company. The policy is valid during and after work hours, as social media never stops…and “Google never forgets”.

The social media policy and guidelines document needs to cover all known social networks, both internal  (such as Yammer, or Salesforce Chatter) and external – including blogs, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and any other web or mobile application which allows interaction of multiple people. 

Response Library

A response library is a database of all the possible questions we might expect when engaging an audience in the digital space. Simply put, it‘s an ever-growing pool of FAQs. One of the benefits of having a comprehensive and up- to-date response library is that it will allow you to provide a quicker response to your audience and shortens the escalation process.

Because there could be more than one person overseeing your social media platform over a period of time, a response library also minimises duplication of effort within the team, especially when you get the same type of questions frequently.

When queries come in, they should always be logged in the response library, accompanied by the approved responses. When a future similar query is asked, you can always find the response in the library and not have to hunt the right person down to get an answer.

Using the image below as your guide will help you determine what’s important and how to address it. Addressing issues quickly and thoughtfully will help prevent crises before they arise – the ultimate aim.

Once some fundamental processes are in place, we can look at some real-life crisis situations. Keep in mind the definition of a crisis -“a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger”. It’s a real crisis when there’s demonstrated damage to the company: customers leaving in droves, criticism leaking into mainstream media (TV, major newspapers), share-price drop, someone filing a lawsuit, or other major reputation /financial damage.

The following are examples of true social media crises:

  1. Bronwyn Bishop’s #Choppergate: Why is that a social media crisis? When an elected official gets exposed for wrongdoing, and the consequence of the outrage on social media results in firing or resignation, that’s a crisis.
  1. Joe Hockey’s “Get a good job.”A stupid comment from a leading politician goes into a frenzy on social media. Mr Hockey and his team don’t apologise for the mistake, which results in popularity drop and Mr Hockey eventually “retiring from his political life”.
  1. Woolworths’ Lest we Forget. The company made a mistake with the #FreshInOurMemories campaign, exploiting the ANZAC brand without permission and for commercial purposes. There was a direct and immediate impact on the company share price, dropping from $29.65 on the day before the campaign, to a low of $28.10 in just one week – a drop of 5%! For Woolworths’ shareholders, where market cap is around $30 billion, the company’s value dropped by $1.5 billion!

We all make mistakes. We may not see them as mistakes or mishaps at the time, but our customers or the general public may perceive them as such. Trying to defend those mistakes is a futile effort. A heartfelt, sincere apology will go a long way to solving the problem, before it escalates beyond reasonable proportions.

The same rules apply when we’re a victim of hacking (when someone hijacks our company’s social media account) or when someone creates a fake account using our brand. Being prepared for such events (by using a monitoring process and framework) will help minimise the damage of a social media crisis. 

Connect with a social media consultant to design your social media policy and response management framework