If the public is a major stakeholder, social media is the go-to channel to communicate effectively, quickly and widely when managing issues or crises.
Issues can come completely out of the blue or with little warning so having a crisis management plan, social media guidelines and a confident and trained spokesperson to fall back on, will be a great help in any fast-moving situation.
However, the reality is you can’t be prepared for every eventuality. Every situation is unique therefore your responses will differ depending on the issue you face.
A first step is to create a crisis plan that will provide clarity and direction for the team involved in managing the issue. This can be brainstormed on the white board and it will help focus the team and the communication on what really matters.
Elements of the crisis plan to include:
- What outcome do you want to achieve from the communication?
- Stakeholder analysis or target audiences
- Key messages (for each group of stakeholders)
- Channels (methods) for reaching stakeholders e.g. news media, social media, website
- Specifying who is responsible for delivering the communication
People often turn to social media first during an issue or crisis so it’s important to ensure you are prepared to manage this important communication channel. Here are some social media insights we have gained when managing issues and crises.
1. If you know it’s going to hit the news media be courteous to the fans and public and let them know about the issue before they learn about it in the media.
2. Crisis 101 applies - don’t lie or cover up anything as eventually this will make matters worse and you will lose peoples’ trust.
3. Be the human on the other end – be empathetic and understanding of the impact the issue has had on people.
4. Social media is often delegated to younger team members who may not be equipped to respond to an angry public. Ensure your social media community manager has the skills, experience and is robust enough to handle some of the less than pleasant comments that can be posted. Consider escalating this role to a more senior communications manager who has experience managing issues.
5. Set up key word alerts to intercept abusive messages before they are posted.
6. If it’s a contentious issue, decide from the outset how you are going to respond to the comments and how much explaining you can do (sometimes legal ramifications can hamper the amount of information you can respond with). Don’t be drawn into arguing on social media – asking to take the discussion off line is one option.
7. Before announcing the issue, brainstorm every question and include all the likely answers. Then point the community to a Q + A or web page with the full story.
8. Consider to front-foot the issue by taking out social media advertisements that convey key messages and other important information. This is one way to reach everyone that could be affected by the issue.
9. If the issue creates a flood of inquiries then consider whether you will be able to answer every post and message. When allocating resources to respond to social media posts, take into account that activity will likely run late into the evening and throughout weekends.
10. Move on if it is appropriate to do so. Generally there is always a silver lining, so if there is good news, start posting it and don’t forget to thank your community for their understanding.