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March 6, 2014

Five Reasons a Social Media Crisis Policy Makes Sense

JC Penny's kettle was accused of looking similar to Hitler and created a social media storm.

No business, big or small, is immune from the potential threat of a social media crisis. From customers writing negative comments on your company Facebook page, to disgruntled employees sharing their thoughts on their Twitter feed to poor reviews on third-party sites, it is crucial to have a well-thought out and well-resourced social media crisis plan.

Ideally you should include a crisis plan in your social media strategy and policy. The strategy will be how your business introduces and uses social media as a means of increasing commercial activity.  Your social media policy will be your company’s policy around staff using social media, particularly if they represent your company and, within reason, your expectations of staff behaviour on their personal accounts.

And your social media crisis policy is for when it all goes pear-shaped, because like any business plan or strategy you need to plan for a “What if?”

What ifs could be a viral video of staff misbehaving (Domino’s 2009), an advertisement that set Twitter on fire (JC Penney’s Kettle), rogue, upset retrenched staff in charge of a Twitter account (HMV), or your promoted Facebook post appearing on Condescending Corporate Brand’s Facebook page (yikes!)

True, it is difficult to predict when and where a crisis might occur. What might seem trivial to some looms large for others. But the principles of crisis management can be applied generally to a social media crisis.  Managing your risks and being prepared are key to surviving the crisis.

1. You’ll know who is in control

Keep track of who has access to your company’s social media passwords and accounts. In a time of crisis can you easily access your accounts (and change the passwords) if your social media manager is unavailable or if the issue arises after hours?

What resources do you need to manage the crisis — extra staff, an AdWords campaign, a Google Alert update, a Facebook post, a company update on the website or LinkedIn page, a blog and e-mail campaign?

Do you need to call in external resources?

Inform your staff about what you are doing or what you plan to do, and ask for their feedback and ideas.

2. You’ll be prepared to face the noise

“It is just a storm in a tea-cup,” so might a JC Penney executive thought when similarities between a new product and Hitler were raised.

No matter what you might think, damage from a social media issue can spread rapidly, regardless of the truth. Don’t think that because there was no foundation to claims or accusations that you should ignore what is being said about your company. You may have to repeat yourself silly for three days but it will be worth it if you address the issue head on and honestly.

3. You’ll know to keep it simple

Don’t over think or over complicate the situation. Regardless of the speed of the social media crisis, taking the time to think about the company response is important. You may experience short-term pain for long-term gain.

What are the messages you need to send to your community or customers?

Do try and limit your key messages to three if possible. Do you need to be strong or can you tread softly with your messages?

What is the easiest and swiftest way to get the message into the hands of your clients and who should be the spokesperson?

In the event that tweets and posts are coming in beyond the ability of your team to manage replies, think about how you can best manage these — do they have to be addressed personally or can you create a number of replies to cover most posts?

4. You’ll find out who your friends are

What would your fans and advocates be thinking? Can you call upon them to provide a third-party endorsement for your business? How willing would your fans be to help in shutting down the crisis? How would you ask for help without appearing needy, or do you think your customers would be willing to leap in to defend you without being asked?

Can you involve the staff in playing the role of advocate/defender?

5. You’ll learn a lot

Reflect on what happened — cause and effect. Review the entire process from the beginning to the end. What would you do differently? Do you have any data on posts (views, shares, likes and comments), tweets and retweets, mentions in media, Google alerts, hits to your website, open rates on emails (including unsubscribes), search terms and stats on the issue from analytics?

Can you turn this data into a sentiment analysis and decide if you came out on top of the crisis?

Look at the allocation of resources — did you have enough? How would you prevent the situation from occurring again?

Communicate the outcomes of any analysis with staff members so they have a complete picture of the event. Seek their input for any suggestions on improving the social media crisis.

A well thought out and well-resourced social media crisis management plan will cushion any fallout your company experiences, mitigate losses and help you prepare for future issues, even those not of your making.


Nikki Cripps is a Sydney-based copywriter, specializing in online content, social media, LinkedIn profiles and public relations. She has been managing for more than seven years and is an occasional contributor to SPN. Working with big brands and small businesses, she sometimes works for clients in-house, where she gets to talk to grown ups about Game Of Thrones, drink bad coffee and eat too much chocolate.