January 11, 2010

Crisis Scenario

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:05 pm by R

For businesses, social media presents a conundrum: Participate and risk people speaking negatively or don’t participate and eliminate the threat of saying something people will react to…and people will probably still say negative things.

Some very public companies have learned the hard way — United Airlines comes to mind — that not participating is tantamount to saying the worst thing possible. So, as with any other form of communication, you must plan for the worst with a crisis communications plan.

The first thing to acknowledge in crisis planning is that you have almost no control. Try though we might, we do not have control over the things people say, only our reaction to them. What’s the adage? Life’s 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond. It’s also true in social media crisis planning. Once you’ve let go of how to control people in social media, you can effectively devise ways to respond in the event of an emergency.

From my point of view, social media crisis planning unfolds in two parts:

  1. Social media is the nucleus of the crisis
  2. Social media as a response tool for another kind of crisis.

For #1 scenarios, you must plan your response.

Let’s say your company makes children’s toys. Let’s say an angry mother whose child had some traumatic experience with said toy launches an all out assault on your brand and product via every single social media tool she has access to. Let’s say she’s savvy and influential, so she’s blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and commenting on influential mothering forums. Big problem, right? Hopefully you’ve got good listening tools in place, so that you can catch these scenarios VERY early on. Either way…

What do you do? Go to the source – fast. You are a big bad brand who harmed her little angel with your shoddy product as far as this mother is concerned, so you have to make it personal and one-on-one as quickly as possible.

Once people deal with a person who has established even a modicum of trust, they will often back it down a notch or two. It takes the sting out in many cases. So reaching out in a personal, responsive — and if possible — high level way immediately way shows you care, not just about your reputation, but about the mother’s concerns and the child’s well-being (Not to mention the well-being of children everywhere in this hypothetical situation!)

Second step (I hope this is obvious): LISTEN!  Hear this person out. We learn a lot about our selves by listening to what people have to say in social media. As such, take the opportunity to learn how to avoid this in the future while you’re taking the time to help this vocal individual.

Step three, mitigate damage and hopefully with an ally. Depending upon how large the awareness about your issue is, target the largest media net and cast out news that your company is working closely with said family to resolve the defect/issue/what-have-you.

Just like any relationship, if you survive tough times together, you often come out stronger. So it is with brands and customers. If you can work to accommodate the customer and create a satisfactory result, you’re likely to have an even more loyal ambassador in the long haul.

Now, scenario #2, which is equally if not more important than having some plans for #1 — using social media to communicate during a crisis.

People need information in a crisis. Be it the media, shareholders or other persons effected by your crisis, communicating to them in an efficient, thorough and continual way is positive.

As part of your planning, analyze the networks you company participates in and ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Where is my largest audience?
  2. Where will I have the most ability to distribute information?
  3. Where am I directing people for more information?

Once you’ve answered these three questions, plan accordingly to develop a distribution plan including authorized spokespeople, designated social media updates and intervals for information release (crisis dependent).

Remember that social media is just one tool that can be utilized in a crisis, so everything that you plan as part of your social media crisis response should integrate seamlessly with your overall crisis communications planning.

Ultimately, you have to plan for the worst and simply hope for the best. What’s the saying: An ounce of prevention…In the calm of day-to-day fortify your company and its reputation by building a brand in social media that can withstand a crisis.

~R