This is the first part of a series of two blog posts addressing the subject crisis management on social media.

Crisis management should always be proactive and not just reactive. Every company must engage in proactive crisis management by monitoring issues related to its business and to society in general, by assessing risks and developing a crisis communication plan. Proactive crisis management helps companies anticipate a crisis before it occurs. This said, a great part of crisis management is reactive management, as it is about dealing with a crisis once it hits.

In today’s blog post, I will look into how and why companies should be proactive. In tomorrow’s blog post I will examine what response strategies brands can make use of once the crisis strikes.

The importance of social media in crisis management
Today, the power of social media is indisputable. People spend a large part of their time engaging in conversations on social media channels – and therefore, brands cannot ignore social media in their crisis management.

If people share negative information on social media about a company, the information can spread very quickly to a large number of people. Also, people are more likely to share negative feelings towards a company rather than positive feelings. This means than when a company ends up in a crisis, the comments shared about a company on e.g. a brand’s Facebook Timeline will often dominantly be by people with negative experiences. Further, when a person with no prejudiced opinions towards a brand, visits a Facebook page covered with negative comments, it will inevitably influence this person’s image of the company.

Therefore it is extremely important for brands to be reactive on social media even more than in traditional media. People expect companies to react immediately to a crisis on social media, which gives brands a lot smaller margin than on traditional media. Also, people expect to participate in a conversation about the issue with the brand in real-time rather than just reading a company statement in the newspaper.

Monitoring
Companies must carefully monitor issues in order to be able to identify potential crises and preventing the issue from turning into a crisis. The issues should not only be monitored in the traditional media. Today, a lot of communication among stakeholders is taking place in social media, and brands must therefore monitor social channels such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook for sentiments and influencers. If a negative comment about your company is circulating online, you must monitor if the negative sentiment is turning into an actual crisis – and a crisis quickly flourishes online.

Prevent an issue from turning into a crisis
You should never leave a question on Facebook or Twitter unanswered – whether it’s a negative or positive sentiment you must always reply. The same goes for a negative blog post about your company. Set up a monitoring system to be alerted if a critical blog post about you is being published and respond where the criticism appears.

If a negative comment calls for a response, this must always be done – whether it’s an implicit question or criticism where it is possible to provide an answer. The issue has at this point not yet turned into a crisis, but it must still be handled. At this level, a response should just be left as a comment in the specific post or comment thread.

Take action
However, if the negative comments turn up repeatedly and become the main subject of the communication on your social media channels, you must take it a step further – a response in a comment thread will no longer be sufficient. On your brand’s Facebook page you must create at status update to provide an overall response to your entire fan base. Pin the post to the top of your page which will make sure that the same questions and criticism are not repeated, as people will see your statement as the first thing when visiting your Facebook page. It is important to show that you take the crisis seriously and to give people information about the crisis and about the efforts you are making to deal with it – not only on your webpage, because people usually visit brands’ Facebook pages before visiting the websites. So make it easy for people to find the information, and pin it to the top of your Timeline.

So, if the negative message has spread and the issue has grown to become an actual crisis, you must take action and involve in crisis management. Whether the crisis your company is facing is about untrue rumours, costumer complaints, criticism of your company’s moral, or any other issue, you have to consider the online aspect in the crisis response.

But what kind of response strategy should you pursue? In tomorrow’s blog post, I will answer this question.

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