Crisis Communication for Beginners

When crisis strikes, it can feel like the boat is sinking faster than you can find the time or tools to plug the holes. The key is communication, of course, but it’s a complex game of when, who, and how. There will be multiple channels to hit, the need for a point person to control your messages, and well thought out real-time response and engagement that will take a few streaks of wit and a dash of panache. This is not a drill, folks, and we definitely didn’t plan for this on the content strategy calendar.

So you’re a newbie and don’t know how to deal yet? Stay afloat and regain composure with these tactful tips.

Determine Validity and Potential Damage

Your social media manager took a misstep and said something slightly off color or out of tune with your brand, perhaps. This kind of situation? Not necessarily a crisis that needs public attention. Subtly delete or let it disappear in the sea of tweets. However, your brand may have posted something overtly offensive or outright false on every platforms. Or maybe something bigger happened – a company-wide customer service blunder or a batch of malfunctioning products. The former can be easily dealt with and won’t call for panic – the latter requires a lot more. When crisis, or something that resembles a crisis happens, take a breath and one step back. Evaluate how severe and extensive it is, or you may be overdoing the damage control, which ironically, would only make things worse. Save your profuse apologies for when it really matters.

Refer to the Basics

Any brand blunder, whether it’s on social media or not, requires a good dose of customer service. Refer to the basic principles you know – have a 20/20 on the customer’s perspective, for starters. Always provide a simple confirmation and apologize before you launch into damage control. A short and sweet “We realize X happened and apologize for the oversight. Our team is currently working to fix the problem – updates to come.” Now the “Did you know?!” tweets from your followers will cease, and you’ve bought time to plan to communicate the rest.

Incorporate Your Plan of Attack Before the Water Surges

Crises (yes, plural) happen to everyone, brands big and small. That’s why you need a plan. Like yesterday. Before you set sail, and definitely before the pipes burst, tailor your plan to your needs. Have a whole team of social media managers? Allocate who will respond and when. Maybe the CEO is the social media manager? Make sure she has a backup in case the conference call can’t wait. Maybe you may even want to go to the lengths of template tweets. You can’t overplan!

Know Where Your Microphone Is Pointed

Mass damage control is necessary, but remember you’re also counting on influencers and industry gurus to crank up the volume, too. This means not over-communicating, as your followers will likely see your message multiple times. Let’s take a recent, pop culture example. Kylie Jenner’s lip gloss kit got major attention – especially when the batch of less-than-functional wands spurred a tweet storm of pictures and angry lip-enviers – including famed makeup artist, Jeffrey Star. He not only tweeted his disappointment in the product, but congratulated Miss Jenner and the company for addressing the issue after they announced they would be sending everyone brand new products and changing their wands for good. Surely, many customers saw both messages and were pleased with the damage control, propped up by Jeffrey Star’s approval. Your brand might not be as big as Kylie Jenner or her lip gloss, but the same flow follows. Throw a rock, and the water ripples.

Remember the ol’ adage there’s no such thing as bad press? Luckily, that’s mostly true. The good thing about social media is, something else will be trending an hour from now, and as long as you make amends and take the steps to avoid Titanic descent, you’ll recover and the wind in your sails will keep a’blowing.

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