ImageIt’s Friday. You’re on the social media team at work and have just been through 5 days of meetings, read hundreds of emails, spent countless hours engaging online, had more tasks assigned than you could possibly handle and worked late a couple of nights to make your deadlines. The end of the day is rolling around and you’re looking forward to the weekend, tired, satisfied and ready to unwind. By 6 pm, your time off has begun.

But here’s a not-so-news flash that we all know: People are online all the time! And it doesn’t really matter to them that you’re going out for a drink with friends or have a night at the movies planned with your family.

You probably have moderation team in place for your Facebook page or Twitter account to cover off-duty hours, and maybe even scheduled some posts for the weekend, so you feel safe. But do you have a 24/7/365 Spike Event plan in place?

What happens if an issue comes up on Friday night or Saturday morning or holidays?

We all need downtime - what if your Community Manager has gone camping, wine tasting or just goes off-line for the weekend?

What happens when YOUR page blows up with activity in off-duty hours?

Spike events come in different flavors

Fortunately, not every type of social media spike event is bad for business.

You might create a brand update or video that goes wildly viral. You may find that your media campaign or an influential publication/blogger features one of your products and creates a demand beyond your ability to fill it — woops! You made a promise to your customers, and people want to know what’s up NOW.

Way on the other side of things, suppose you’re targeted by activists attacking your corporate policies or ingredients used in your product — and those folks are very organized and experienced.

Are you ready with a response for these situations and anything in between?

Some examples

At LiveWorld, we’ve pretty much seen it all and know that a routine announcement or product release can turn into full-blown crises without warning in just a few hours. Here are just a few examples of events that we’ve seen that triggered tens of thousands of posts for our clients in 4 hours or less:

• Announcement of pricing changes
• Popular fill-in-the-blank Facebook posts (perhaps sparking inappropriate answers)
• Gaffes made by staff or others connected to the brand in social channels
• Customer complaints (whether true and hoax)
• Coupons not available
• Fans objecting to brand ads
• News events causing massive reaction
• Organized outrage about products or policies

Any of these can cause a massive response from users, and require different approaches, ranging from fast deletion of obscene or harmful posts to brand engagement that acknowledges, informs, explains, apologizes — posted by real people in a conversational tone consistent with both brand culture and issue.

In any case, your short-term strategic objective is to limit the damage done to your brand’s reputation. Ultimately you want to make your customers proud of your response, which deepens their brand loyalty, and impresses potential customers who admire your handling of the situation.

Strategic management means preparation

To be ready when something happens — and it will — prepare for massive scale before it happens and put a strategic plan in place with point people to run it. Here are a few tips:

1) Create guidelines. They need to clearly state what your page is about, what kinds of posts aren’t acceptable, and actions you’ll take on them. Post them quite visibly on your site. Those rules won’t prevent a crisis, but it helps to have them in place as you manage one.

2) Develop a relationship now. Listen to your fans/followers, engage with them, and encourage conversation. That’s going to make it easier for people to listen to you and even defend you when you run into trouble.

3) Listen. Make sure that people who moderate and/or engage also listen closely to what’s happening so they provide an early warning system when a pattern of posting changes or reveals an emerging issue.

4) Tailor an escalation plan. Identify specific roles (individuals and back-ups if they’re out), as well as various levels and categories of response. Ten or fifteen posts about a coupon may not be a crisis for your site, but it could be an indicator of more to come. And it requires a different escalation path than an organized protest. In each case, who gets called? Who makes decisions about responding? How far up the path does the notice go for each category of event you can foresee?

5) Prepare for scale. If something catches fire, whether positive or negative, you’ll likely need a 24/7 moderation, monitoring, response, and reporting team. You’ll have to assemble it quickly and provide training, management, and leadership.

6) Identify your strategic leads. The key components of your response are transparency, engagement, and accountability; you don’t want to disappoint your customers. That said, sometimes the people who’re upset with you aren’t really your customers. In the end, you want to get back to running your business as soon as you can, so you’ll need experienced strategic leadership to navigate the complexity.

Try not to view all customer uprisings through the same lens. Spike events are often a manifestation of fan loyalty — an expression of a proprietary feeling among your customers about the brand, even if they’re disappointed in you. How you decide to handle the issue can turn things around, even if you’re not able to do what people want you to do.

Above all else, time is of the essence. A fast (but carefully crafted) response will prevent a kerfuffle from becoming a crisis, while no reaction at all gives time for a molehill to turn into a mountain.
You’re going to need a strategy and you’re going to need to scale in a hurry. A good plan will greatly reduce the time you spend managing these events, so you can get back to your much-needed time off sooner.

What about you? Does your company have an after-hours and weekend social management plan? Care to share in the comments?

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This post was written in collaboration with Valerie Sprague a day-to-day contact for clients working with LiveWorld to develop their online communities with specialties are social media management and strategy, copywriting, and metrics analysis to provide actionable insights.