Making Social Media part of Your Organisation’s PR Disaster Plan

The majority of the work I undertake is with organisation’s enterprise social solutions (so I won’t claim to be an external social media expert), however I’m occasionally asked about how to plan for the use of public social media (such as Facebook and Twitter), sometimes this has been during a period of negative publicity, while other times it has been fueled by something that has happened to their competitors. In any case, I thought this would make an interesting post.

The first stage in planning your response is to think about the level of consumerism your brand has, firstly because if you are a big consumer brand the chances are you already use social media to engage with customers – people care a lot more about their regular coffee house and their mobile phone provider, than they do a professional services firm or an engineering firm who makes widgets, that is until that brand does something that offends them.

Today it seems that no company is immune from the critical vocal connectivity that public social media and networks sites provide consumers, as a number of big brands have discovered to their cost. So here’s my list of the top 12 things to do with social media when faced with a crisis situation:

  1. If you don’t already start monitoring news websites and the social web for mentions of your brand/organisation.
  2. You need to brief the executives of your company that they are now in the trust business, which may not be something they immediately realise!
  3. Urgently (this means within hours!) consider telling the world (and the world’s media) what is going on and start the re-building trust process by placing a personal leadership statement from the most senior person at the company explaining some of the following: What is going on internally? What are the company doing to make sure thing are safe/get back to normal? Give basic details, but make sure it is a comprehensive list. For example if it’s a safety issues, tell the world what safety means to the company. Mention the company’s safety records and the company’s credentials to make/do whatever it is they do. Talk about the company’s history.
  4. Correct any dis-information that has been circulated. Above all tell the public that they are safe/things will be OK and what the company are doing to get things back to normal. However, the company should NOT be or appear to be complacent, the statement needs to be sincere and understandable. If you don’t know, then say you don’t know and when you expect you will know more.
  5. Make sure the newsmedia are aware of the statement on their website and that you will be using your website to communicate the latest going forward.
  6. A summary of and the link to the statement should be at the top of the company’s website (and not just in the news section). Depending on what has happened, this is the most important thing in the world right now for the company and you need to act like it is, if it’s going to be ongoing make a key section of the company’s website part about the crisis and the company’s response.
  7. Consider making and releasing a short professional video of the statement from the most senior person at the company via YouTube and also to broadcast outlets. This needs to use exactly the same material as the website statement, but at the same time convey a personal side from the company’s leadership. Reassuring the public (and investors) that the company are incontrol (not scared) and that people are safe.
  8. Disclosure, Disclosure – Going forward update the statement with text based “news flashes” as the findings from their investigations etc happen – in relative real time.
  9. Co-ordinate with other involved parties and organisations, not least to control SM statements, on their twitter accounts etc.
  10. Communicate with the company’s staff about what is happening and what they should say – regardless of any policies the company’s staff will be ambassadors for the company in the social media space.
  11. Check the company’s official SM spaces and spaces that have been setup by the social networks or by others on the company’s behalf. Start using them to promote what’s happening, but remember this is not a press release, use an authoritative voice and [if appropriate] ask for help and ideas.
  12. Make absolutely sure that none of company’s directors or senior people are seen to be heading off on holiday or doing anything other than working around the clock to fix this – benefit from the lessons that other have learnt dearly. A twitter photograph of your executives enjoying a golf day will not go down well.

So what should organisations NOT do:

  1. Even in today’s social driven world, don’t assume that your company’s PR agency have experience with online and social media.
  2. Say nothing and/or wait to release more information.
  3. Make non-committal, or “it would be improper to comment” or “we’re making progress” like statements without substance.
  4. Don’t make things worse, be specific but use general terms (hopefully this makes sense).
  5. Do not appear complacent or use big/complicated/industry words to explain things.
  6. Don’t try and defuse the situation by releasing details of other non-relevant news.
  7. Don’t create a new twitter/facebook account etc if the company doesn’t already have one, if it does – use it to reply to people and promote statements on the company’s website.
  8. Don’t pretend that this is not a crisis and get ready for a full scale social media crisis if criticism continues.
  9. Don’t hand responsibility for social media communications to a junior member of the company’s communications/online staff, if required instigate and additional level of senior communications approval/review before any updates are made to social sites.

So as we have seen fortunately, there is a way that brands can fight back and even use social as a way to connect with their consumers to access valuable feedback and turn negative experiences with their brands into a positive experience. However, above all it seems that the realisation that staying tight lipped is simply not a valid PR strategy.

I’d be interested to hear the experiences of others.


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