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Summary:

Because social media cannot be “controlled,” the thought of putting marketing messages out into the social web strikes fear in the hearts of many. Without control, how do you avert or manage a crisis that bubbles over and could explode on Twitter, Facebook and the like?

Ice Cube

You may have already experienced social media meltdown: a rapid derailment of your previously neat and tidy social media marketing efforts. Because social media cannot be “controlled,” the very thought of putting marketing messages out into the social web strikes fear in the hearts of many. Without control, how do you avert or manage a crisis that bubbles over and could explode on Twitter, Facebook and the like?

I’ve blogged about social media crisis communications previously; the very first step in social media crisis management is to be prepared. In addition to a good social media marketing plan you also need a strong crisis communications plan that incorporates  monitoring and application. Here are six things to consider before you encounter a seemingly out-of-control situation in your social media channels.

  1. Contemplate worst cases. Part of your social media crisis communications plan should include playing out scenarios. What are the worst things that could happen if things spun out of control in social media? People would be angry? You’d lose customers? Your brand would be damaged? You’d lose consumer trust? Address each of these issues now and how work to solve these problems.
  2. Monitor overtime. Have you noted an a few more dissatisfied customers blogging, tweeting and commenting than usual? Did something happen recently that could qualify as “an incident” that someone got on tape and uploaded onto social media channels? You should have in your plan a monitoring strategy that can be ramped up to 24 hours a day and a communications process to text or call key strategists and spokespeople if something must be addressed immediately.
  3. Don’t panic. If you see trouble brewing, don’t let your emotions get the better of you and lead you to acting in a non-strategic fashion. Don’t grasp at straws, don’t respond in a knee-jerk fashion to the tense online conversations, and don’t lose your cool. If you feel anxious about what you’re reading and seeing in your social media channels — particularly if it starts looking like complete anarchy — go back to your plan for grounding.
  4. Respond strategically. You have to be agile in a crisis communications situation and often push yourselves past your comfort zone to defuse the situation. Your plan is a good focal point for your communications efforts when things go awry, but you also need to observe any new dynamics that are occurring that you may not have anticipated. Be strategic about any responses you put out there. Most individual questions from a crowd that is demanding answers do not need to be addressed individually. Instead you could compile them into a FAQ to cover broader ground and keep things neutral and even-toned. You will have to make decisions on the fly but keep your strategy in mind.
  5. Sit it out. As Kenny Rogers said, “You have to know when to hold ‘em.” Sometimes your voice inserted into the negative social media conversations will have the affect of gasoline on a fire. Not everyone wants to hear you defending yourself or your company. Not everyone needs to hear the desperation — or frustration — in your voice by the words you choose in heated moments. Just wait. If you’ve done a good job of building trust in your social media-hosted communities, your community could actually begin policing itself. Your supporters may respond to the naysayers in positive ways, helping to defuse the situation before you even have to get involved. Some things do work themselves out, but knowing how much to get involved — and what to say when you do — takes experience and finesse.
  6. Be respectful. No matter what you end up saying to your social media-based audiences, always take the high road, never say more than you need to, and make sure every sentence you put out there is even-toned and highly respectful of others. Sometimes people just want to hear themselves vent. Other times, people just want to jump on the bandwagon of the frenzy. If someone has a legitimate gripe, quickly and appropriately responding while respecting other people’s feelings is the best approach. Not sure how to start? Why not start with “I understand and respect your feelings in this matter. I hear what you’re saying.” Now calmly provide information that addresses the issue.

How prepared are you for a social media communications crisis?

stock xchng image by user LittleMan

  1. Good list, Aliza. I especially like how you set these up as considerations. Too many consultants in our space attempt to establish “rules, laws and commandments” in this space that keeps changing dramatically. If you’re interested, I also provide considerations and analysis on “2.0 crises” here: http://www.jamesjdonnelly.com/2010/03/analyzing-five-commonly-held-beliefs-about-2-0-crises/

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  2. Great tips!

    I try to advocate ‘over-listening’ (monitor overtime) to keep a finger on the pulse of the social streams, so that making the decision to respond or sit it out (good advice, btw!) is a fairly painless process.

    Cheers!

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  3. Great post, very precise. I’m not sure much else needs to be done in addition to these 6 steps. #5 – Sit it out – is great if you already have an established community with vocal advocates. What would you recommend if you don’t yet have that base?

    #6 – Be respectful – is key too. No need to get in a words war with people. Let them know that they’re authentically being heard. That’s all that people want most of the time, to be heard and understood. Again, great post!

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  4. It is also good to earn respect and trust from one’s current fan base before crisis strikes as well. After all, it is easier to forgive a friend than a stranger. ;)

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