social media crisis managementOne of the biggest communications mistakes a business can make is to take on too much when it comes to social media. Every time a new channel pops up, they jump in before any kind of content strategy is done, or without thought to how much time, personnel, and resources might be needed. Is it any wonder that many company social media channels wither and die? Jay Baer calls this trend rampant social participation proliferation, a term he got from Jeremiah Owyang. Unplanned social media growth is a threat to effective engagement, and if applied to crisis communications, can do more harm than good.

In a crisis, dissemination of information is a high priority. The need for real-time interaction and accurate information gathering puts an added burden on an already-stressed communications team. Plastering your messages hastily over every popular social media channel is a mistake. Where social media strategy is vital in business, it is more important in crisis. Here are some principles to follow that will help you figure out how to plan for crisis communications using social media.

1. Stay within your established platforms. This is the most important guiding principle to remember. For instance, if you have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a YouTube channel, and an Instagram account, stick to those channels when planning any kind of crisis responses. This is where your fans are and this is where your detractors will want to voice their opinions.

There are several reasons for doing this but the most obvious is that a crisis is not the time to build an audience or plan strategy for a new channel. Objectives are different in a crisis than in everyday social media. Your goals should be two-fold: reach the widest audience and enlist advocates who will help you spread the message. Second, every channel you post on, you have to monitor. Think of your resources, personnel, and time.  Third, you don’t have to answer every negative post that pops up on every channel. You’ll be playing whack-a-mole. Stick to the channels where you have established a fan base, and enlist your advocates to help you amplify your message. Use scheduling and amplification tools, but don’t try to build a presence on a new channel during a crisis.   

2. Stay within your primary broadcast or customer service channels. Even if you love Vine, it isn’t an effective crisis communications channel. Neither is Pinterest or Foursquare. Primary broadcast channels are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, blogs, podcasts, message boards, text alert systems, and customer care channels. I can guarantee you will have your hands full trying to respond to your fan base on your regular broadcast channels. Don’t waste time trying to get your message out to every nook and cranny on the internet. Also, don’t forget your allies in traditional media.

Prioritize your messages and prioritize your channels. Concentrate on channels where messages will be amplified for maximum reach and media coverage. Be strategic to gain reach, don’t try and create it by adding superfluous social media posts.

3. Spend priority time monitoring instead of multiplying your message channels. Set up a series of Google Alerts or use a monitoring app such as Mention, Radian 6, Meltwater Buzz, Hootsuite or others to catch the mentions of your brand or keywords on the internet. Again, time pressure in a crisis is ever present. Your ability to set up an editorial strategy that includes posting to social media, traditional press releases, answering media requests, and digital monitoring is going to be hampered by time pressure in a crisis. Take a realistic approach considering your resources and present fan base.

4. At the first sign of crisis, call a reputable crisis management firm in your sector. Today, many agencies that advertise social media crisis expertise are social media people with no communications or public relations background.  Knowledge of social media is no good in a crisis unless it is informed by an understanding of effective media relations. Check backgrounds, bios,  and client recommendations to make sure the agency has experience handling real-time crises.  

Most professionals I know will give you a free consultation up front, and even if you don’t hire them, they can give you a realistic idea of what you’re up against and what it’s going to take to mitigate the event. It’s the most important call you’ll make. 

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