Crisis plans for your brand’s social media: don’t go online without it

By Posted in - Crisis Communications & Social Media & Strategic Planning on February 2nd, 2012 0 Comments

You’ve successfully built an interactive social media program for your company or one of your clients. You’re answering customers’ questions, providing helpful information about the brand and generally loving the engagement between company and consumer.

And then it happens. It might start out slow – just one person posting about a negative experience they had with your brand. Quickly the fire catches, and suddenly dozens of people have jumped into the flames, spouting hateful verbiage about your company, your product and everything your brand stands for. Blogs and forums are picking up the social media threads and sharing it across the interwebs. In as little as an hour (or sometimes less), you have a full fledged crisis on your hands.

What do you do?

Don’t wait until this scenario happens to put a crisis communications plan in place for your company’s social media program. Quoting Winston Churchill during World War II, “failure to plan is planning to fail.”

Here are a few tips to help you develop a social media crisis communications plan for your company:

  • Select a point person. Although you might have multiple people contributing to your company’s social media efforts, there should be one person the team knows to alert if a conversation starts to take a turn for the negative. This person is responsible for implementing the crisis plan, pulling together the appropriate response resources, handling internal communications, etc.
  • Categorize the conversations in your crisis plan. Map out the various types of conversations that could happen online and what would constitute elevating the situation up the chain of command. For one of our clients, we code our conversations into green, yellow and red.

Green conversation: neutral in tone, ranges from product or service-related questions, can be answered and addressed by social media manager

Yellow conversation: mildly negative in tone, customer has had a negative brand experience and needs follow up response from someone other than social media manager. Social media manager should take the request to the appropriate party (customer service manager, product manager, marketing manager) and then make sure the consumer has been followed up with in a timely manner. Don’t leave the customer hanging waiting on a next step.

Red conversation: extremely negative in tone, customer or customers are using social media channels to share negative brand experience and/or talk bad about the brand. Before you fire off a defensive response and potentially make matters worse, the social media manager should alert the chain of command (executive staff as appropriate, customer service manager, HR manager, PR manager) and have a response plan ready.

  • Research the situation before responding to the customer. Realize if the customer has had a negative brand experience, they may just want to be heard and have their issues addressed. Also realize this might be an opportunity to shine a light on something happening you need to address company-wide (if a defective product is causing injury, for example, you need to know about that quickly to begin recall and consumer-alert proceedings). Customers are your 24/7 product and service testers – use their feedback (even when it’s negative) as an opportunity to learn about things happening within your organization you might need to change, and respond accordingly.

Social media networks are wonderful tools to engage in two-way conversations with your customers. The feedback you receive on your brand’s pages won’t always be positive. But by implementing a social media crisis communications plan, you’ll know how to listen to customers’ feedback, and understand how and when to respond when a negative comment arrives. This can help you better manage your relationships online and serve as a more effective brand ambassador.


Share this to keep the conversation going: