A decade into my social media career, I often wonder >> Isn’t all of social media crisis management?! Of course, I am joking, but social media is definitely at the front lines when it comes to keeping a crisis under control. A few years ago, I used the example of DiGiorno’s social media manager as a perfect example of how to recover when something goes wrong. As some of you remember, DiGiorno’s crashed hard when their social media person failed to research the #WhyIStayed hashtag and said something along the lines of “#WhyIStayed because he had pizza.”
Having survived an abusive marriage, my first reaction was very hateful towards whoever posted that tweet. I even took to Twitter and started to write a very snarky, emotional response. But then I saw the same person tweet the most genuine apology from the DiGiorno’s account and I felt for him. I respected his honesty, transparency and being able to admit when he made a mistake. I saw him as my social media compadre, making a mistake that I so easily could have made any day of my social media career. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my first lesson in realizing TRANSPARENCY is #1 when it comes to dealing with a crisis via social media.
So, here we go— the steps to handling a crisis via social media:
I LOVE Sprout Social’s new feature which allows brands to stop all scheduled posts for the time being. DO THIS until you have a better understanding of what is going on. You don’t want to end up on the front page of Buzzfeed as a brand that made a HUGE mistake.
Monitoring is how you are going to learn that there is a crisis and figure out what people are already saying about that crisis. You do not want to say a single thing on social until you comprehensively understand what the sentiment and reach is of the conversation surrounding the crisis.
CHAT WITH PUBLIC RELATIONS
Yep. I said it. You need to become besties with your friends over on the public relations team and share what you have gathered via monitoring and listen to what they recommend as messaging moving forward. You can totally push back, but you also should get to know their point of view and why they recommend the messaging that they do. They might see/know something you don’t. You might also see/know something they don’t. Collaborate and be transparent when meeting with PR so you can create an effective response strategy moving forward.
If your company messed up, ADMIT IT. We are in a new day and age where people crave authenticity and are more willing to forgive and forget than stay with a brand that isn’t fessing up and is being fake. When you are able to admit your mistakes you become human to your audience, which allows them to have a stronger connection with you as a brand.
If your company did not mess up, but still needs to respond to a crisis, be honest about what YOU DON’T KNOW. Instead of trying to have an answer right away, admit that you’re unsure of how the crisis will affect the company, but you’re here and you’re on top of it. I once worked for a company who said that a crisis would have no impact on the employees who currently worked for the company. Less than a month later, 450 were laid off. You don’t even want to see that company’s GlassDoor today. Just be real. People can sense when a crisis might lead to layoffs, so don’t play them. Admit your uncertainty.
TAKE YOUR LAST ACCESSORY OFF
Coco Chanel is famed for saying that every lady should take the last accessory she put on off, before she goes out. It’s the concept of less is more. Whatever you are thinking of doing on social media in response to a crisis, take on step back and stay there. When there is a crisis, less can be more. Take coronavirus— unless you are adding value, you are just adding a mess of ridiculous info for people to weed through until they get to the info they need. You aren’t helping. And unless you are helping or adding value to defuse a crisis >> you shouldn’t speak. Period.
This honestly goes with being transparent, but I want to expand on it a bit. Panic is a huge side effect of a crisis. Social media can easily light the fire underneath that panic, or help put that fire out. When all is said and done, you want to be the company that helped to put that fire out, and, a lot of times, that requires you to be humble. It requires you not to take an opportunity to catapult your brand, because you know it’s not in the best interest of putting the fire out. It requires you to take a step back, when all you want to do as a social media team is take a step forward. Analyze where you can be of help and value, and take the step back if you can’t be either of those.
If you do see an opportunity to add value and help defuse the crisis, DO IT! Change social media plans, create a new campaign, do whatever you need to do in order to help defuse the crisis. Just make sure you are still besties with the PR team as you are doing this. Nothing is quite as bad as a PR team member seeing a social media post for the company that is completely against what you decided on during the last meeting.
I think this last step falls off of so many people’s radars during crisis management and during social media management overall. I’ve always seen social media as a petri dish to learn from. Think about what people are saying— why are they saying it? Why are they saying it on that platform? Why are they saying it in that way? Who are the people this matters to? Who was against our company? Who was for our company? Learnings from crises can help adjust future strategies and also help the entire company learn how their target market is reacting to and viewing the company as a whole. You are literally at the power seat of the table when it comes to sharing learnings from a crisis.
Social media is so, so powerful. Don’t dismiss its value and importance when it comes to a crisis. Use it to change the narrative and to learn more about what to do if a crisis affects your company again.
– Marji J. Sherman