Social Media Crisis Management

By Nicole Matejic


Do you think before you tweet?
Ponder before you post?
Hypothesise before you hyperlink?

As we all sit comfortably in our armchair commentators boxes, watching the latest #PR Fail like it’s a global spectator sport, we become experts don’t we?
We laugh, we judge, and we provide subjective commentary on how, why, and when it all started to go wrong.
But what if the subject of the latest #PR Fail was you or your organization?
Hindsight with 20/20 vision is exceedingly accurate; yet the philosophical concept of cause and effect in a social media context that is right before our eyes is hard for people to grasp.
From the outrageous to the obvious, the misinformed and outright malicious – the truth is, crisis communications in the social and online media environment is rarely discussed UNTIL an organisation finds itself in a crisis. And even then, the inclination to direct blame outwardly is exceedingly common.
Why is it that the last place people look to for answers when a social media crisis unfolds is within?

What causes a social media crisis? You.
Yes, that’s right – inevitably YOU (or your organisation) are the navigators in your own social media crisis misadventure. Here’s how:
• Communication is an organisational after thought
• Organisational leaders don’t appreciate or haven’t invested in communication risk management
• The person/s behind your social media channels is under resourced or social media is an adjunct to their ‘real job’
• The person/s behind your social media channels are under trained for the complexities of community management

Why you need to plan for a social media crisis
It’s easy to take the view: “Not my circus, not my monkey” (~ Polish proverb) when it comes to social media risk mitigation, but while the monkey might be off your back after a crisis has passed, the online circus never actually leaves town. Instead it lives on in perpetuity inside Google’s cache.

You must plan for a social media crisis because:
• Your organisation may not survive the consumer backlash as sales plummet, orders are cancelled, or shareholders sell their stocks
• Social media mayhem will act as a catalyst for highlighting other workplace deficiencies. A lack of leadership, poor organisational planning, or an absence of media acuity will have knock on effects, impacting other parts of your workforce
• Organisational morale will dive at the time you need your people focused the most
• A #PR Fail will dominate your SEO – a costly endeavour to remediate

How to prevent a social media crisis
Preparedness for social media crisis starts at the top. One of the biggest preludes to crisis communications failure is a leader who has a general apathy toward social media and communications in general. If they don’t think it’s important – why will anyone else in the organisation?
Preventing a social media crisis is about planning for risk while ensuring functional organisational alignment:
• Be present, active, and engaging on your social media channels
• Have a social media strategy in place that clearly defines your goals and objectives
• A social media crisis communications plan must form part of your overall social media strategy. It must also align with broader corporate communications activities in a holistic whole-of-organisation approach to managing crisis in general – social media crisis won’t be contained to just your online channels
• Resource and train those responsible for social media in your organisation appropriately: including in customer experience if you use social media as a customer service portal
• Identify and contract in the expertise you don’t possess internally but need early. It is much cheaper to hire a crisis communications consultant to assist you in risk identification and strategy development than it is to hire them to manage your crisis
• Organisationally practice your social media crisis communications plan in a simulated learning environment. Apply the lessons learned during this process into your social media crisis communications plan
With on average one diabolical, globally viral social media crisis (#PR Fail) occurring each month and numerous less apocalyptic examples appearing daily: don’t wait for your own crisis to learn how to navigate your way out of social media disaster – learn from the cache of organisational and individual misadventures at your disposal.

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