An article by Kristi Frisch, Client Services Manager, published on MediaPost: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/206611/#axzz2eR7Q8XVc
Crisis is an inevitable part of business. However, it’s how your company handles an issue that is the most telling. Social media can ultimately be the deal breaker when it comes to your organization’s ability to effectively communicate to your stakeholders during a time of adversity. Keeping an open, honest line of communication is critical whether you are keeping your stakeholders safe, informing them of an incident, or apologizing for a mistake.
Companies large and small are seeing the benefits of using these powerful communication outlets to market their product or service, connect with stakeholders to grow relationships, and network to develop partnerships. However, when crisis occurs, even companies with active social media campaigns can freeze under pressure and become silent. No one likes to face hard problems head-on. And stating the issue is certainly not an easy thing to do, but it must be done immediately and with extreme care. It will certainly be painful; but the longer you put it off, the greater the consequences will be. Then, you not only have the issue at hand, but an additional and unnecessary situation has now been triggered; and you are left with your stakeholders feeling frustrated, hurt, and neglected.
Some hope that if they simply remain quiet and give their crisis some time, it will pass over. Well, the opposite is true with social media. The quicker you engage your audience, the better. In this 24/7 world, a few days of silence can feel more like a lifetime. And the longer you wait, the more time you allow negative energy to gain momentum. Followers start to question credibility, and before you know it, your company reputation is on the line. Being absent on social media translates into a company’s lack of interest in their clients feelings, questions, comments, or feedback. So instead of ignoring, engage social media during a crisis.
It is important to create a social media strategy before a crisis occurs. This way you will gain an audience that wishes to follow your company, and these are ideal contacts to develop relationships with. You can also take advantage of establishing a history of proactively telling your story before a one-time issue becomes the only news-worthy topic regarding your company. Reputation is something that requires trust, credibility, and a history of evidence; and that isn’t something you can sign-up for overnight.
Now when a crisis hits, the best way to use social media is obviously going to differ on a case-by-case basis (as would any crisis communications plan). Each situation requires a unique perspective taking into consideration the company’s core values, business goals, and general audience.
However, you should consider the following guidelines when posting to social media:
- Explain the issue thoroughly – what happened and why it happened.
- Be accountable. Apologize – and mean it! Forget the lawyer mentality of “innocent until proven guilty.”
- State your solution to the problem. List the steps you are taking to reach that goal – be specific!
- Mention any changes you are making within the company such as policies and procedures.
- State why you feel that the situation is unlikely to occur again without being over-reassuring.
- Mention what you are offering those who have been affected.
- Send regular updates to stay engaged. Simple steps of progress will show your audience you care about how they view your company, and you will start to regain trust.
- Assure your followers that you will stay in contact about future risk – and do just that.
- Social media never sleeps – make sure you have at least one person designated to monitor your channels around-the-clock (multiple shifts may need to be assigned, depending on the size of the company). Empower those in this role to respond as necessary. By having someone reply immediately to your stakeholders, will prove you are serious about costumer service. This also makes it easier to address any additional concerns that may arise, so they will not escalate into another crisis.
- Sympathize with each stakeholder’s situation. Listen to how people are reacting to the initial crisis and base your comments on their feedback. Then notice how your audience replies to your posts in order to continually improve your responses.
- Reply to as many – if not all of – the comments posted on your social media channels, especially during a crisis. Responding to people individually shows you sincerely care.
- If you don’t have an answer right way, honestly acknowledge uncertainty. Reassure them that you will look into it and get back to them – stay true to your word and follow-up a.s.a.p.
- Keep it personal. This isn’t a place for stiff remarks. Speak simply and do not use corporate terms. Your stakeholders want to feel like they are speaking with a person, not a robot.
- Never delete comments or block a customer (unless they are harassing/threatening you). Instead, address them directly, so your whole audience can see. Most likely another one of your followers noticed the difficult question asked or the unsatisfied post, and they are watching and waiting for your response.
- Develop partnerships with organizations that are active on social media, who are also important to your company – these key players will be an asset, since they can post to their audience on their channels about your response.
- After the crisis has settled, be careful not to dive immediately into hard-selling right away. When the time is right to begin another social media marketing campaign, be sure to start with a soft sell.
By communicating effectively during a crisis, you will protect your brand, reputation, and company image. How you handle a crisis will directly affect your ability to retain customers. And that isn’t something you want to wing. Whatever the predicament may be, a resilient company is one that is able to maintain client relationships. Take the event of a crisis as a chance to prove your level of competence, compassion, and trust to your stakeholders through the use of social media.
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