14 Tips for Building Your Social Media Crisis Communications Plan

December 18th, 2013
by
photo courtesy PRNews

photo courtesy PRNews

How long would it take you to get your CEO on the phone at 4pm on a Friday or during a holiday? That was one of the questions Dallas Lawrence (@dallaslawrence) posed during his session, “Crisis and Reputation Management in the Social Age” at the PRNews Media Relations Next Practices Conference last week in Washington, D.C.

One key takeaway from Lawrence included this quote: “From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, good PR efforts have not changed. We are just so tied up in the new platforms that are out there, we forget the basic media relations practices.”

No matter how good your communication department is, it matters how you handle situations as they arise. You could do nothing wrong in today’s social environment and still have a crisis develop; you must be ready for that.

One example that Lawrence mentioned was when someone hacked the AP Twitter account to say there had been a bombing at the White House. Within seconds of that Tweet, the stock market declined for almost 30 minutes until people realized it wasn’t true.  When a crisis such as this occurs, Lawrence suggests looking at three roles social and digital media play during a crisis.

First, social media is an instigator. Were there not a social platform that allows us to send out our every thought, or record every stupid thing that happens, the crisis wouldn’t have occurred.

The next role is that of accelerant. A similar crisis may have happened 20 years ago, but it would not have metastasized so quickly without social media. So Lawrence stresses we must be prepared to act immediately instead of waiting and seeing.

The third and most important role social media plays is extinguisher. We can use social media effectively before, during, and after a crisis to mitigate the damage, and in some cases actually eliminate the crisis.

Social media continues to evolve and grow. There are more than 500 million users on Twitter, more than one billion users on Facebook, and four billion videos viewed on YouTube per day. Everyone knows a social media presence is necessary, so everyone is bombarded with content, and just because you posted a video or press release on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t mean that anyone cares or that anyone sees it.  Your message must be spot on.

Lawrence stated that 79 percent of companies believe they are only 12 months from a crisis, and 50 percent of those companies believe it will happen in the digital space. The biggest issue facing companies today is the inability to respond effectively to new media (including social media). And yet, only a third of businesses have a digital crisis plan.

If you need to develop a digital crisis plan from scratch, or if you just want to refine your existing plan, here are 14 lessons from Lawrence on how to handle that social media crisis.

1. Once a crisis breaks out on social media, identify your influencers, as they are most likely to impact the conversation. All people in social and digital are not the same, so make sure you know which people have the ability to shape decisions about your company.

2. Actively monitor your reputation and the activities of your protagonist(s) or advocate(s).

3. Avoid the information vacuum. Information spreads as soon as it’s available, regardless of its veracity. You can’t have a press conference every other hour; you have to release news in real time.

4. Develop a clear, effective and platform-appropriate message. Be where your crisis is happening. Craft an appropriate message for the platform on which you respond. If something is happening on Twitter, respond via Twitter first before sending out a press release.

5. Own your brand in social media before someone else does. People are actively stalking and brand jacking.  You should know not only your corporate entity’s brand, but all of your subsidiary brands.

6. A majority of journalists use Twitter for sources. Journalists are getting their news from Twitter in real-time before verifying the source of the story.

7. Make sure to include people, not logos, on your social media accounts. No one wants to engage with a logo, especially in a crisis. We want to talk and hear from someone.

8. Integration is key. It is critical to integrate your crisis communication plan across all channels.

9. Know what you are talking about. Once you lose the credibility it is really tough to get it back.

10. When you blow it, own up to it quickly.

11. When all else fails, don’t forget humor. When you have really gotten in too deep, the best way to recover is humor.

12. Integrate paid and earned media.

13. Have clear employee rules and training for social media engagement.

14. Don’t forget your secret weapon: your employees. They can be your most powerful allies online if you engage and arm them in time.

Do you have a crisis communications plan and would you be prepared to handle a crisis situation at 4 pm on a Friday? How do you manage the speed at which news spreads on social media?

2 Responses to “14 Tips for Building Your Social Media Crisis Communications Plan”

  1. […] Lawrence, a newly minted school board member, and corporate communications officer for Mattel, spoke at a conference in DC last week and BurrellesLuce recorded his 14 tips on social media in crises in this article. […]

  2. Very useful tips for building social media crisis communications plan.

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