It may be difficult to imagine that a comment on social media, or ad campaign, graphic, misquote or argument could cost your organization immeasurably in terms of sales and brand favor.
But these events do occur, increasingly. With communications now moving nationally and internationally at the speed of IOT, compromises can occur, and it is essential to have a solid social media-crisis strategy in place, and ready to implement.
What contributes to a social media crisis?
Digital marketing teams and community managers deal with small problems and minor incidents on a daily basis. One of the most important aspects of social media management is handling negative or inappropriate comments and images and ensuring channel security and customer-service responses that enhance consumer's experience and with its brand and your image.
Of course, a social media crisis is something far larger than a negative comment or two. It is an incident where something that your business has said or done has caught negative national or even global attention. Sometimes the brand is not at fault in any way, but is still in a position where it has to defend against a substantial social media public backlash, one that can cost millions in lost sales and customer retention, if your representatives do not handle things in an appropriate way.
Looking for some examples of social media brand crises in 2016? Who could forget the staff member at Kitchenaid who tweeted insensitively about President Obama’s deceased grandmother? The tweet was sent, mistakenly, on the Kitchenaid official account by an internal staffer who thought that he or she was using a personal account.
Kitchenaid respectfully deleted the tweet, apologized to the Obama family and indicated how the error had happened. The company also confirmed that the individual who had made the comment would no longer be managing its social media activities.
That quick and appropriate response probably saved the brand.
In some instances, however, it is not an internal staff member who is responsible for tweeting something offensive, but rather a deliberate hack of the social media account. That happened to Burger King in February 2013, when hackers replaced the burger chain's official branding with a McDonald’s logo, and began to tweet offensively.
Fans quickly caught on, however, that the account had been hacked, and in subsequent weeks (after Burger King changed its password), the chain's Twitter account gained more than 30,000 new followers.
Creating your social media crisis plan in four steps
Like any other emergency strategy, a social media crisis plan is designed to offer a quick and appropriate response and funnel correct information to anyone looking to access it, including customers, employees and the media. Here are four steps.
1. Assign a team.
While the best-practices guidelines for your social media crisis plan should commence with your marketing department, the implementation of these procedures will touch a variety of departments, including customer service staff, sales, human resources and senior leadership officials within youre organization. Create a team with at least one representative from each impact department who will be trained to respond, and one back-up person from every essential communication group.
2. Delegate and designate.
Define the core message that your brand needs expressed in the event of a negative online backlash or public relations fallout. The most successful businesses in the world, in a state of emergency publicity, fall back to their core values to assure the public, customers, shareholders and employees of their commitment and integrity.
Delegate core spokespeople for your brand. Controlling who comments on behalf of your business is essential to resolving the problem. Letting multiple employees comment, perhaps inappropriately, can fan a small flame into a forest fire, from a public relations perspective.
3. Document it.
Your crisis strategy for managing communication through social media should be thoroughly documented, and there should be printed copies available in key areas, as well as digital ones. Keep in mind that some social media crises can stem from a corporate hacking incident (like the event with Sony in 2014), in which case intranet and other resources may not be immediately available. Have a back-up location specifically separate from your main network.
4. Practice the plan.
Having a social media crisis strategy buried somewhere in the marketing archives does little to ensure that your response will be prompt when it's needed. So, practice it twice per year, and ensure that as staff members change in key roles, new staff are trained with the appropriate protocols
The ability that a brand has to pivot in the face of a public relations problem determines its ability to find a fast resolution, and minimize collateral damage to the brand and its reputation. With luck, your business may never need it.