Social Media Crisis Management for Dummies

for_dummies-1Why is it that when a company has a crisis they shut down their social media channels? In some cases companies will block comments on Facebook or will suspend their Twitter account until the crisis is over. So what gives? Why do they do it?

There are two reasons for this outcome.

1 – The company wants to minimize the ‘knee jerk’ reaction. By going dark for a period of time they believe that they can limit the number of negative comments, tweets and pictures about the crisis.

2 – The company is developing a response plan. A typical plan consists of:

– The message they want to send

– Determining what type of comments they will respond to

– Determining the responses

– Organizing which internal groups can help with information

Both reasons have merit, but companies need to realize that social media is the doorway to their brand, much the same way that their website is the doorway to their e-commerce. When you shut this doorway you shut out the users of your brand. During this dark period they can’t see who you really are and, more importantly, how you handle a crisis. Too many companies make the mistake of compartmentalizing social media as another marketing channel when in reality it is a 360 degree view into a company.

Stop for a minute and consider what is on a company’s Facebook page — real time images, customer comments, voice and tone of posts, videos and recommendations. All of these comprise a unique two-way conversation that a company is having with users.

Most importantly, customers understand that companies aren’t perfect. They make mistakes just like people do. How a company deals with crisis is sometimes more important then the crisis itself. Being transparent and proactive is a must.

Carnival Cruise Lines recently learned this with the Triumph crisis. They were transparent when tweeting about the crisis and they were proactive by responding quickly to tweets concerning conditions on the Triumph. They still took many hits on the chin, but were able to salvage their reputation.

Another example of good crisis management is the Domino’s Pizza YouTube video crisis. On Easter Sunday, the actions of two employees quickly became a worldwide marketing nightmare. A slow workday at Domino’s Pizza in Conover, N.C., prompted this duo to create videos showing a male sticking cheese up his nose and then putting it on a sandwich that was to be delivered to a customer. Domino’s was in crisis mode and instead of going dark on their social media channels, they responded. Domino’s was just starting their social media strategy so they were somewhat unsure of how to respond to the crisis. They released a response on all their social media channels alerting customers and fans to the situation. What separated Domino’s from others was that they then asked their Twitter followers to help them spread the word by retweeting the link. This helped to calm the storm until they were ready to release their official public statement.

Not all companies handle social media crisis the correct way. Last August, Bic Pens found themselves in a social media firestorm when they launched a new ad campaign around pens for young women — Bic For Her. These pens came in pink and purple colors along with a contour to fit a woman’s hand. The problem was, women took this as sexist. In droves, women responded with tweets asking for a recall of these pens.

Instead of trying to solve the crisis Bic went dark. On both Facebook and Twitter Bic didn’t respond to any comments regarding the Bic For Her pens. To remain completely silent for a period of 2 months is a strong decision that had a negative social impact for Bic.

Being prepared for a crisis is important. You don’t want to spend 2 days prepping for a crisis that has already happened. Crisis management on social media should be part of a company’s social media policy. According to a survey by eMarketer in June 2012,

74% of companies that are using social media for conversations, marketing, fundraising and promotions and other types of communication, don’t have a policy or even a governance model in place.
A good social media policy addresses what needs to be conveyed to customers and fans on social media channels. It should also have selective answers to crisis questions.

Lawyers play a big role when it comes to a social media crisis response for companies. Many Fortune 500 companies might not have a social media policy in place, but their social media comments and responses are carefully monitored by internal company lawyers. Lawyers play a key role in approving what is said on all media channels during a crisis, so it is not unusual that social media is one of those channels that goes dark. Part of the reason for this is that the crisis itself is already being handled by company lawyers, and in order to control the amount of monetary damage most lawyers order a shut down of information during this time period.

Here’s a checklist that any company should follow on social channels when the heat is on…

1 – Address the crisis, no mater how bad it is. Make a statement on all social media channels. “We know that this bad thing happened.”

2 – Apologize and take ownership of the crisis — more importantly, be humble.

3 – Give your fans and customers an action plan regarding how you are going to rectify the crisis. “We are going to speak to this location about what happened.” “We are going to remove these employees.”

4 – Ask brand advocates to help spread the word.

5 – Re-affirm your company’s values on social media channels. This can be done by stating your principles or offering them an incentive to stay with you.

Being prepared on your social media channels is still the best way to handle a crisis but learning form others and implementing a solid checklist is important.

We are beginning to reach a stage in social media where it needs to garner the same attention that any business initiative does —listening, planning and engaging. Hopefully by the end of this year we will see more companies keeping the lights on when a crisis comes up.