The Do’s and Don’t’s of Addressing Crises via Social Media

It’s 2012 and most businesses are now active on social media (if you’re part of a company that isn’t, contact Dittoe PR, we’ll help ya out). While it’s great that so many companies are seeing the extensive benefits of socializing with their customers and fans via the world wide web, there are some businesses that still don’t have a plan in place in case of public relations crises. Negative messages can often spread faster than positive ones, so PR pros need to be prepared to act in a meaningful way at the drop of a hat. But how you respond is certainly important. Here are six Do’s and Don’ts for handling Crises on Social Media:

Do – Have a Plan in Place
An effective social media policy will help save a business’ reputation in a crisis situation. These policies are meant to outline rules and regulations of day-to-day social media use as well as in crisis situations. Remember to outline steps that the crisis team should take, as well as determine who is in charge of handling the crisis via social media. The smaller the team, the better because there will be less room for confusion and mixed messages. PR firms make for great social media managers! Check out Mashable’s tips to a good social media policy. You can also read an example of a social media policy by IBM.

Don’t – Respond in Anger
With a social media plan already in place, it should be easier to follow protocol when it comes to responding to a crisis. However, whoever is in charge of social media should take time to calm down and really think through a response before taking action. An angry response will only blow the problem out of proportion and cause more trouble. Similarly, deleting a comment made out of anger will also be more problematic than responding in a diplomatic way. One cringe-worthy example occurred in 2009 when Irish airline Ryanair responded to a blogger’s post about a booking fluke with insults. They even issued an official press release backing up their claims about the “idiot blogger.” Not a good idea.

Do – Stay on the Same Channel
Say an employee accidentally sends an inappropriate tweet out on the company’s account – you shouldn’t respond on your Facebook wall. It is vital to stick with a consistent social media channel during a crisis situation. If you’re addressing an issue that has nothing to do with social media, you can still respond via social media, but your message might be slightly different depending on which social media channel you’re working with. When Domino’s experienced a viral YouTube video crisis showing an employee serving food that had been shoved up someone’s nose (just one example), the company responded with an apology video also on YouTube. This is an example of a well thought-out, sincere and impactful response.

Don’t – Ignore the Problem
If one customer has a problem and vents about it on social media, it most likely will not turn into a crisis situation. However, as part of your social media policy, you must monitor social media channels for issues that are substantial enough to affect your brand in a negative way. If negative comments start going viral, or anti-your-company Facebook pages are formed, don’t ignore the problem and hope that it will go away. Nestlé experienced this problem when they saw comments from upset Greenpeace activists regarding key ingredients in KitKat bars on their Facebook fan page. At first, Nestlé ignored the problem and deleted the unwelcome comments. Things soon got out of hand when they openly posted that they were deleting comments. Nestlé’s official apology on the matter was widely thought to be too little too late.

Do – Respond Quickly
I used to work in a newsroom on the overnight shift where the motto is, “news never sleeps so neither do we.” Because of this 24/7 model of news, a quick response is needed to show that your company is listening and prepared. The problem needs to be addressed in a timely manner, and should consistently communicate the same message. Again, a small crisis communication team will ensure that everyone is communicating the same, clear message in a timely manner

Don’t – Dwell on the Negative
Once a crisis is resolved, it is important to use it as a learning experience and more forward. Don’t dwell on what could have happened; instead turn it into something positive for your company. For example, Frontier used a severe weather crisis as a way to show customer support on Twitter. When multiple flights were delayed in Denver, Frontier’s Senior Manager of Social Media decided to tweet relevant information and flight re-accommodations to quickly spread messages. Customers were pleasantly surprised with the speed and ease of re-booking flights. These PR pros managed to show how valuable quick responses are and generated positive feelings out of a crisis situation.

A good PR firm will be able to help their clients create a successful crisis communication strategy before any issues come up. This strategy needs to have a specific section to focus on social media issues, including action plans and preparedness in case of a crisis.

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