Social Media Crisis? Don’t Panic.

Today I bring you a post from Susan Hart as a part of #BeMyGuest month (a month of guest blogging).

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Recent brand attacks via social media reiterate what many organizations are
 lacking –
 little to no understanding, much less preparedness, on how to deal with an Internet-driven crisis.
 But there’s no need to panic if you plan ahead, just as you would with any regular crisis communications process.

Case in point:
 Look at Southwest Airlines and how they handled a recent disgruntled passenger who had more followers on Twitter than the airline did. When he’s told to get off the aircraft due to his large size, he fires off his displeasure via Twitter. Southwest responded in less than 20 minutes to his complaint, offering apologies and travel vouchers.
 The airline could immediately respond only because they had planned ahead with steps like these:

1. Anticipate Operational Issues
 Brainstorm about operational issues that could go wrong from senior executive mismanagement and questionable finances to poor customer service and natural disasters.
 You should have a detailed game plan on how to best address various issues and differing audiences with specific communications avenues. Now think about how and/or if to include social media in your plan. The main reason the Southwest story had a short shelf life
 was two-fold: quick response, backed by its solid and reputable brand that began years ago (that’s for another post).

2. Social Media – Your overall communications strategy should contain various tools like media relations, stakeholder notifications, databases, etc. Adding social media tools is as simple as setting up accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube,
 SEO, and establishing static web pages and
 other tools to
 strategically use in the event of a crisis. Going back to Southwest,
 when those tools are
 incorporated as part of your
 communications plans, consumers won’t see these tactics as just “they’re in trouble” tools as they will already be familiar with your brand. Global brand Heinz did not anticipate a hacker claiming to represent the company to set up a pretty believable Twitter account with lots of followers.
 They didn’t do the simplest of things like setting up an account, which takes less money than time.

 If your organization doesn’t understand how social works in its most basic purpose of forming communities and two-way relationships, and/or if your organization is unwilling to take its lumps and address its naysayers, you may be fighting an uphill battle (again, that’s for another
 post). Just keep in mind that
 it’s difficult to address a crisis initiated on and perpetuated by social media.
 Ask Domino’s.

3. Ninja Response – Social media communications works in real time. If you have any reason to believe something’s about to break, closely monitor activity; if your suspicion holds true, pounce on the situation like a Ninja. Because you’ve already anticipated sensitive operational issues, you will have a clearer idea of what tactic to use with what audience (see Step 1).

Here’s the bottom line: No organization is immune to a crisis. Every organization should have a crisis communications plan. Get out your plan, and start rethinking your tactics in light of today’s social media. Then do that again six months later.

What are other ways to plan for a social media crisis?

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About Susan
Susan Hart, APR, is a public relations consultant with 25+ years of professional experience. She currently counsels service providers in health care, real estate, technology and financial services. For more information, check out or follow Susan on Twitter @SusanHartPR.

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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

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