PR: How To Avoid a Social Media Crisis

9 Steps To Mitigate PR Crisis Potential

Social media crisis requires boy scout mentailityA social media crisis is every PR professional’s nightmare. No one wants to wake up and discover his firm or client is a negative trending topic on Twitter or other social media platform.

In today’s always on, always connected world, everyone has a personal publishing and distribution platform at his fingertips so the potential for social media flare ups, whether it’s an angry customer or an employee having a bad day, always exists. For example, even a well-loved brand like Jet Blue had trouble when a frustrated steward used an emergency exit to leave one of their planes. What matters is your ability to handle the situation with a cool head.

What can a PR professional do to mitigate a PR crisis caused by a social media flare up and reduce the impact if one occurs? Here are nine steps to help you avoid a social media nightmare.

  1. Install effective social media monitoring. Social media ecosystems are filled with noise; on average only 2% of inquiries require your response. Actionable Social Media Tip: Understand that Google Alerts are probably not sufficient for most firms. Assess what level of information your organization or client requires to ensure you can track the latest conversations related to your firm, brand(s), product(s), senior executives and competitors. Determine the keywords and phrases important to track. Decide whether you need to monitor in more than one language. Install internal processes to elevate customer service issues to ensure that you don’t have a United Breaks Guitars moment brewing.
  2. Define and distribute corporate social media guidelinesBe explicit as to what employees, agencies, suppliers and customers can say about the company on your owned social media as well as what they can say on third party social media networks when representing the firm. The guidelines can be short and sweet. Ford has five rules that fit on one page. Actionable Social Media Tip: Ensure that every employee has a copy and understands that not following them can result in job loss.
  3. Always have social media coverage. Don’t leave social media unstaffed. Create back-up plan to keep things going (aka contingency plan). Don’t assume fill in staff will know what to do. Actionable Social Media Tip: Define who is to do what in the case a key corporate spokesperson is out sick or on vacation. Make sure that these individuals have access to your social media accounts and related content.
  4. Train customer facing employees and senior executives regarding social media engagement. Take a lesson from BP’s Gulf Oil Spill. You don’t want your senior executives to appear more concerned about personal issues than the crisis. Actionable Social Media Tip: Teach your employees to be able to respond in any situation and give them the flexibility they need to adapt your instructions to the specific issue.
  5. Build a social media following. Get involved in social media. This includes understanding how the networks operate and what’s expected in terms of interaction. Actionable Social Media Tip: Don’t wait until your firm or client is under fire to jump onto social media and participate. Start now! Commit the time and resources to engage and build a reputation. Don’t use this channel just to push your own messages. Use this channel to connect and engage. Pay it forward and promote others.
  6. Create a viable owned media entity. Translation: Develop a blog. It’s a search-friendly CMS that creates a face for your organization. Actionable Social Media Tip: Think 24/7 media entity. Build it before you need it. While you can roll out a brand spanking new blog when the sh*t hits the fan, the problem is you won’t have an established reader base. You need the ability to get your message out fast to a broad audience without going through a third party.
  7. Create additional content to post during a crisis. Have more content available to publish across a variety of topics and platforms beyond your carefully worded press releases. Actionable Social Media Tip: Ensure that you can expand the conversation beyond the issue. For some this may seem like a difficult task since you don’t want to appear tone deaf to the problem. But you want to ensure that related issues show up on search results as well as to expand the conversation beyond the current flap.
  8. Be a boy scout and have a PR crisis plan ready to implement. Think always be prepared. Actionable Social Media Tip: Go through a practice run of the plan at least once every six months to ensure those involved understand what to do and who to contact. Take it one step further and do it at night or over the weekend so that it’s more real world. Further, ensure that there’s a list of phone numbers including mobiles.
  9. Provide access to Legal personnel who can fast track and provide actionable answers if needed. Often-social media flares chart new territories where there’s no corporate precedent. In this case, it’s often critical to bring in a member of your Legal team. Actionable Social Media Tip: If your organization or client is large enough, it’s useful to designate one or more individuals dedicated to social media efforts so that your team isn’t always relearning the rails.

While you can’t prevent a social media crisis from flaring up, you can take steps to mitigate the impact when one does occur. Further, know that it will happen at the worst possible time meaning late at night, during the weekend or on a holiday.

What other tips do you have for ensuring that you’re protected against a PR crisis?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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