How to implement a social media disaster plan

Social media is an incredibly useful platform to engage and network with your audience, but it can also create a nightmare if you aren’t careful.

The social landscape is a fluid and independent one where people can pretty much say whatever they want, to whoever they want. Positive or negative…

That’s why as a business, big or small, you have to be prepared for any sort negativity that comes your way. Ignoring it or responding to it in an equally negative way can damage your business’ reputation.

There are many examples of high profile social media campaigns for businesses going wrong. A notorious SeaWorld #AskSeaWorld Twitter campaign, which asked people to send in questions about whale care, was immediately hijacked by animal rights activists and internet trolls. It ended up as a disaster for the company and a perfect example of how not to do a social media campaign.

While your own business might not be on the same scale as SeaWorld, not dealing with negativity can still be detrimental to your brand.

So how do you build a plan for a social media disaster?

social media disaster

Listen to your audience

Unless someone has directly tagged your company into a negative social media post, it can be difficult to know if someone is talking about you.

That’s where social media monitoring or listening comes in and it should be the first step in any social disaster plan.

You can either do this manually or by using a social media management platform.

If you go down the manual route, this will involve you checking your company name, products, industry keywords, hashtags and even competition.

Using a social media management platform streamlines the listening process. Platforms like Hootsuite allow you to set up streams for company hashtags, keywords and competitors all in one dashboard.

It really comes down to how big your company is and how many mentions you are getting. For small companies, manual listening is a viable option because there will most likely be a small number of mentions. For larger companies with lots of clients, especially eCommerce businesses, it would be worth investing in a social media management platform.

Know when to engage

Lots of businesses dig themselves into a deeper hole by engaging with the wrong conversations, or at the wrong time.

You should always take time to assess conversations and mentions before you reply to them. As you identify potentially negative mentions, you should decide to either observe them, engage with them, or take them to the next level if the crisis is looking particularly negative.

For example, if you are a legal firm and someone has directly mentioned your legal practice in a negative way, take your time to reply in the correct way and try and resolve the issue away from your social media channels by inviting them to email you or call.  

If you see that someone has generally mentioned ‘legal practices in your area are awful’ then simply observe and don’t irrationally act on it. If you decide to act and engage you could end up receiving their full negative wrath.

Equally, if the criticism is a mistake on the part of the poster, or can otherwise be easily handled, then try to engage directly through social media. Users can react negatively when told to change communication channel. It’s the beauty and the curse of social media that it’s extremely accessible for users and therefore extremely useful for airing grievances!

How to handle a full blown crisis

So you have a social media crisis on your hands and you are getting a number of angry mentions being tweeted and posted to your channels.

The first thing to do is act as soon as possible. Social media is a real time platform and if you don’t treat it that way, you can stumble into a bigger crisis.

One thing customers hate is being ignored. If you can reply to individual customers in a timely manner than try and do it but if the amount of mentions is getting out of hand, it might be a better idea to post out a general company message acknowledging the problem.

If you ignore the negativity with no comment, it will damage your business’ reputation and potentially fuel the fire further.

Another big mistake that, particularly, smaller companies make when it comes to a social media crisis is taking the negativity to heart and arguing back.

When you have a full blown crisis, keep the conversations short and always try and direct people to an email address, website or phone number if the problem isn’t solvable on social. Don’t add fuel to the fire by replying negatively because it can end in tragedy for your business.

Finally, make sure you let the relevant people in your business know that there has been a social media crisis. If people in your business don’t know that something has happened, they might end up saying the wrong thing and making it worse!

The next steps after the crisis

So you’ve made it through the disaster and have tried to minimise the damage.

The next steps are to assess the full damage to the brand and take steps so that this problem doesn’t happen again. This could involve putting in processes to combat negativity, training wider staff on crisis management or carrying out an exercise to stress test potential crisis points. Social is rarely the source of a disaster, for example, but it is where the voices in that disaster could congregate and that means it will be up to you to deal with them!

Remember: negativity can come as part and parcel of having a social media presence. Your (difficult!) job is to make sure you have the right plan in place and the right processes to handle a crisis. Let us know how you get on!

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