Imagine being in a room with your best friends, your idols – with all the time in the world to kibitz, share and ask questions.
Welcome to social media cocktail hour – it starts when you login to your favorite hangout.
Anything goes here: I love you, I like you and I’m so done with you. Like bar stools and the holy trinity, all good (and not-so-good) things come in threes.
If you’re a brand at the cocktail party, welcome to your new religion.
If you’re lucky (and smart enough) to grow a community, it can become your church, putting salvation within reach. Belly up to the altar and drink the wine of acceptance – because you’ve arrived.
But what happens when your sins catch up with you? What if you screw up? Do you have a social media crisis plan in place? Do you know where and how to repent for your sins and find salvation?
Social media sinners
I’ve worked for big and small companies and many share a trait that never ceases to amaze me – they don’t plan for a crisis in social media. I’ve seen astronomical investments for sensitivity training, CPR certification – even a chain of command in case of a bomb threat.
All good things to prepare for but what about if when something goes wrong in social media? That would NEVER happen to us – we’re simply too awesome.
First lesson in the catechism: yes it can happen – you’re not as awesome as you think
In 2009, I was serving as communication director for a manufacturer that had been in business more than 15 years and was considered an industry leader. But the path to the pearly gates is paved with good intentions – and unpaid bills.
When the recession hit, suppliers panicked. Then phone calls didn’t generate action, and some of them miraculously discovered social media. It was a mass epiphany from people who’d ignored that medium previously.
As the company spokesperson and community manager, I became the target. Trouble is, social media was new and we hadn’t anticipated being crucified by a group of people who didn’t know a Facebook update from a tweet.
And we hadn’t anticipated they’d reach past the company profile and target employee’s personal accounts. Couple poor planning with a tanking economy and our happy, healthy community lynched us and then abandoned us in our moment of need.
If you’re a community manager or CEO, map your crisis path out before your begin your social media journey. Now. Before something happens. Remember, not every crisis is truly a crisis. Most of the time, there are a million opportunities to fix the problem before it hits the airwaves.
Someone needs to actively listen to the community – not just monitor it.
- Most customer service issues begin with simple questions
- Take questions off-line with phone calls
- Put your customer’s needs first – always
A canned apology isn’t good enough.
- Social media is just a tool and communication during a crisis needs to be personal
- Social media is not a press release – it must be real and honest to be effective
- Every person who posts on the wall (positive or negative) deserves a response
Timing is of the essence.
- Even in 2009, a weekend was too long for our company to wait to respond
- All hands are on deck during a crisis – no exceptions
Social media saints
Companies and organizations that plan for crisis find salvation in the very people who have the power to kick them out of the church. Their congregation becomes a devoted choir ready to once again sing their praises.
After all, who doesn’t love a story about redemption? A saint with a past as a sinner – now that’s beautiful.
Recently I was part of a team that cancelled a highly anticipated community event. We had less than 2 days to map out our announcement plan, which included reaching out to sponsors, speakers, ticket holders and the community at large.
The strategy was simple to define (thanks to my hell-on-wheels previous experience).
Instead of controlling the message, we invited conversation. We announced our news – both person to person and publicly across social media airwaves – and then just talked with people. And you know what? We found out a whole lot more people wanted to help us than hurt us. It was humbling to watch.
And yes, it became my personal epiphany.
If you’re a brand on social media, the tips below will help you create a crisis plan. Take my advice: do it now before you need it. As awesome as we are, we all need to plan for when we’re not so awesome.
Social media crisis plan
Create a decision flowchart.
- Use simple instructions for those involved. If this happens, that follows and this person is contacted, etc.
- Attach accountability and responsibility to each action so everyone understands their roles
- Align it with your traditional communication plan
Assign a spokesperson.
- One voice carries one message – amplified by others if needed
- Monitor from the director level but execute by multiple managers who collaborate and agree on the message
Do fire drills.
- Practice so employees can see how tactical responses align with your over-arching business goals
- The more comfortable staff are in *what if* situations, the more comfortable they’ll be massaging the message in a real disaster
Respect the clock
- Time is of the essence in social media – 24 hours is too long
- All hands are on deck, checking in with gatekeepers
I’d love to hear your thoughts on creating a crisis plan. If you’ve done one, if you need to do one and even if you think they’re silly.