The article is written by Dr. Clāra Ly-Le, Managing Director at EloQ Communications. It was originally part of the blog “Using social media during communication crisis in Vietnam”, which was published on EloQ’s blog.
Many businesses may have a solid social media presence with a high volume of engagement, but the quality of their engagement is mediocre. It is important to remember that engaging widely does not mean engaging wisely. Especially during crises, a good social media crisis management plan can help guide a company’s outreach efforts to ensure it’s engaging with relevant audiences and using influential channels to better manage its message. This social media strategy can be categorized into three groups: people, platforms, and preventative actions.
Managing an organization’s social media platforms requires more than one person. A crisis management team is the first thing to consider in a crisis plan. Since a company’s social media presence can be largely connected with its brand value, the management of social media platforms needs to be a joint effort by management, the marketing team, as well as the digital experts.
Besides the crisis team members, it is also helpful to include strategies on internal communications within the plan. Internal communication is a two-way relationship within an organization, enabling an exchange of information management and employees. If reporters or other people ask an employee for opinions on a crisis, and the employee does not know what happened or what s/he can or cannot say, a misstep can sensationalize the story. Therefore, a company should strive to keep employees in the loop at all times.
This is one of the most overwhelming steps in social media planning, as there are so many channels to choose from. Crisis managers, or social media managers, must first identify the target audiences, in order to determine which platforms are ideal for effectively reaching those audiences. Target audiences can include – investors, shareholders, suppliers, customers, employees, and even the government. One single message cannot be suitable for all those audiences. The company must decide which target audiences are of higher priority, or another option is to use social media so it can customize and tweak its messaging accordingly.
Much research suggests that it is better to use an “owned channel,” such as a blog, forum, or organization-generated community, than to apply a third-party platform, such as Twitter or Facebook. An owned channel is believed to be a more effective way to build a credible and meaningful online presence than relying on the communication flow and audience of an existing platform. Moreover, if the crisis is minor, it is easier to broadcast the response on these channels, as the company can control the statements, tone and material.
However, communication channels dimension does not include only the owned channels. Conclusively, there is a plethora of channels out there, and a company must always ask itself which social media channels should be used and why, and how it will use these channels effectively.
The first preventative action to consider is pre-draft updates. While an online crisis can hardly wait for a response to be approved by many levels of management, crisis managers can pre-draft templates for Twitter messages, Facebook posts or blog entries, with blank sections for the case details. The templates can be approved by the legal team beforehand so that the crisis team can disseminate the message on the appropriate platforms as soon as the details are confirmed.
The next action is creating a terms-of-use policy, which is outlining how people can or cannot behave. This is a way to guide the conversations and prevent people from taking the issue too far on the company’s owned channels.
Scooping up the negative domains and usernames is a proactive way to control the easy to remember names that can share destructive stories about the company. Norton (2013)’s example was if a hateful party owned the ihatestarbucks.com domain and started distributing negative stories about Starbucks, people tend to remember the domain and spread the stories more effortlessly. If the company gained control over the names first, they cannot be used against its campaigns .
Another action is dark sites, which are online hubs that remain in the dark until a crisis breaks out. They contain pre-made resources, such as message from CEO or hotline contacts, and the blank parts to be filled out with the crisis details. These sites are used to respond to a crisis in the most professional and timely manner.
The last preventative action is targeted advertising, which is used to control search results to make sure Google or Bing shows the correct and suitable messages when a searcher types in a relevant keyword. Beside its preventative characteristic, this action can also be used for responsive purpose. This tactic has been employed by BP during its Deepwater Horizon crisis, when BP tried to use PPC advertising to tone down the news of the disaster. Crisis managers should consider a list of potential keywords, as well as a search landing page (such as a dark site) to prepare for the upcoming crises.
While the application of social media during a crisis may still be up for debate, it is still important to develop a social media crisis management plan in advance to manage the information flow. In a time of crisis, social media can be an effective tool for companies to inform and engage target audiences and better control the message in real-time.
 Norton, C. (2013). Online crisis management. In R. Brown & S. Waddington (Eds.), Share this too: More social media solutions for PR professionals (pp. 159-168). Cornwall, UK: John Wiley & Son, Ltd.Tags: best practices in crisis communications, Crisis Communication, Social Media Campaigns, twitter crisis