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10.10.2018

How to overcome a social media crisis

We can all remember times when companies have got it badly wrong. As social media continues to become the essential medium through which organisations engage with the public, social media blunders have become all too frequent.

Not every company error makes headline news and, if it does, it’s often forgotten about amidst the next day’s news agenda.

But what happens when the issue just won’t go away? What if consumers take to social media to hold you accountable, and your organisation becomes inundated with complaints? Strap in, you’ve got a social crisis on your hands.

What is a social crisis?

To understand how to react correctly to incidents of these kind, you’ll first need to understand what a social crisis actually entails.

Although complaints are never pleasant to receive, individual complaints do not constitute a social media crisis. Provided you handle them appropriately, problems like these are unlikely to damage your organisation or its reputation.

A social crisis usually involves a multitude of people complaining or discussing your organisation negatively, and there is usually an aspect of virality involved. They tend to have a snowballing effect, and can’t easily be quashed.

Planning for a social crisis

Social crises are, by their very nature, unpredictable, meaning you can never be totally prepared for one. However, in order to be as prepared as possible for a potential social crisis, you’ll need to have a plan in place. For that, you’ll need to put on your pessimist’s hat. Consider worst case scenarios, and decide in advance how you would react should the worst happen.

For this, an escalation chart will come in handy. Categorise problems by level, and assign responsibility to different people in your organisation per level. The response to the highest crisis level should almost always involve the sign-off of the person with the highest authority at the organisation.

Consider your stakeholders – who will be affected by potential problems at your organisation and how? What are their biggest concerns? How will you effectively communicate with these groups?

What if the worst happens?

When a full-blown social crisis arrives, it’s how you respond that counts.

If you already have a plan in place, this should reduce panic at your organisation, and at least give your team a frame of reference on what to do next.

Importantly, do not go out immediately without a measured response. If your organisation has got something wrong, it’s now time to demonstrate how you do things right. You don’t want to risk poking the hornet’s nest and making the situation even worse.

Instead, consult internally, or with your PR agency’s crisis communications unit, and make sure that everyone is briefed on the organisation’s stance – ‘toeing the party line’ is essential in this kind of situation.

Use your social channels effectively, putting out clear, coherent and consistent messaging. We recommend a clear graphic with strong copy, such as those used by KFC and Pepsi in light of their recent PR problems. Importantly, convey that you are listening to the concerns of your stakeholders, and demonstrate what you are doing to fix the issue.

Although you can never predict exactly what will trigger a social crisis, considering the worst-case scenario and your company’s response in advance of a problem arising puts you in a much better position to deal with the issue should a social crisis occur. Remember to assign responsibility to particular people at your organisation per crisis level, and make sure everyone is briefed on the company’s stance.

Judith O’Leary is Managing Director of Represent

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