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Social Media Crisis Response Plan Basics

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A social media crisis response plan is essential for businesses of all sizes. Make sure you have one in place to minimize damage to your brand during a crisis.

Social media is the way of the world. Well over one billion people worldwide use at least one form of social media on a daily basis, and that number keepsincreasing. Most businesses have followed suit, realizing that social media is a useful way to build a brand and reach customers where they are-online.

It’s easy to interact with customers via social media if your company has a positive image. But what if one of your employees posts a customer’s privateinformation on Twitter or uploads a video to YouTube of another employee smoking marijuana in the break room? You could be dealing with a social medianightmare. Without the proper crisis response plan in place, your countless hours spent increasing brand awareness and goodwill could evaporate. Use thefollowing tips to help create a crisis response plan of your own.


  1. Be prepared. The key to nipping a crisis in the bud is being ready before it happens. Form a social media crisis response team comprised of employees from alldepartments. Discuss threats to your social media presence, such as a rogue employee posting negative content or a customer having a negative experiencewith one of your employees or with your product in general.
    With potential threats identified, a crisis response flowchart can help everyone on the team stay on the same page when dealing with a specific type ofcrisis. The flowchart lets employees know what they can respond to themselves and how, what might need to be run up the ladder for a more formal corporateresponse and what can be left for a non-employee to respond to.
    The flowchart asks basic YES or NO questions to determine the proper action to take. Benefits of the flowchart include:
    • Ease of implementation. The flowchart should indicate exactly who is in charge of what if a crisis arises in order to get a response out as soon as possible.
    • Consistency. If all employees are following the same plan, your message will have a clear, unified voice. The restaurant chain Applebee’s faced much criticismrecently after firing a server for uploading a picture of a customer’s dinner bill. While the company may have been justified for doing so, customersposted over 20,000 comments on Applebee’s Facebook page, disagreeing with the firing. The person in charge of the Facebook page started attackingspecific users and comments, digging a deeper hole for the company and likely not responding in accordance with the response plan. Worst of all,Applebee’s had posted an image of a customer’s bill earlier that included praise for the company, breaking its own policy. With some consistency in theexecution of its social media policy, Applebee’s could have avoided a big mess.
    • Speed.Instead of losing time discussing how to respond, the flowchart offers a clear way to handle the issue quickly. In addition, set up Google® Alertsor a similar service to keep track of what people are saying about your brand in real-time. That way, you can be on top of a crisis before it turnsunpleasant.

  2. Act quickly.Twenty-four hours in social media time is an eternity. Time is of the essence, and your customers will expect a quick response should you face a socialmedia crisis.
    Realize that social media never sleeps-it lives on well after normal business hours. Several members of your crisis response team should keep their eyes onyour social media outlets after business hours in case something comes up. Taking too long to respond shows your customers that you’re either not listeningor you don’t care, which can lead to more incidents. The longer you wait to respond to issues, the more time people have to tell their friends and spreadnegative sentiment toward your company.
    Using the right medium to respond to a crisis can be a useful line of defense. If the crisis begins as a negative video posted on YouTube, post a video inresponse. If it begins with a negative comment on your Facebook page, respond there first. If you can contain the problem to one media source, you have amuch better chance of limiting the damage.

  3. Tone matters.
    Perhaps a useful way to engage your customers is to incorporate a little humor into your social media messages. However, this might not be the best courseof action when dealing with a crisis. If done correctly, your tone can ease customers’ minds and help boost the company back into a positive light.
    No matter how angry a customer is with your company or its products, do not reply with anger. If a person is intentionally attacking your company, invitethem to contact you directly to deal with their issue. If the comment is full of derogatory language or attacks specific employees, delete the comment.However, if the comment is vague and doesn’t attack anyone in particular (i.e., ‘Your company stinks’), deleting it may encourage others to post similarthings.
    Other tone-related tips include the following:
    • Always be polite and thank customers for their input.
    • Politely correct customers posting inaccurate information, even if it is on another site that you don’t directly control.
    • Be authentic. If you are making an apology, don’t copy and paste the same bland jargon to every comment-customers will see that as being lazy andcareless.
    • Humor isn’t always warranted, but it can have a powerful impact to turn your image around. Your customers will realize that people sometimes makemistakes, and a humorous message about how you plan to fix the problem can go a long way.
  4. Follow through.
    Just because you have a crisis response plan in place doesn’t mean you’ll be experts when the time comes to execute it. Have quarterly “fire drills” tokeep the plan fresh in employees’ minds. The better your employees know the plan, the quicker you can respond.

If a crisis occurs, let customers know you’re taking steps to correct the issue and share your plan. They will appreciate the honesty and you should be inthe good graces of your customers again in no time.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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