CrowdControlHQ Academy

Preparing for social media in a crisis

Learn how to develop a social media crisis strategy for your business, work with your colleagues internally to be prepared, and use social media to manage and communicate effectively with customers and external stakeholders.

About Our Social Media Crisis Class

This class takes you through the steps you can take to prepare for crises that pose a threat to your reputation on social media. Understand how to leverage the power of social media when a crisis strikes, and learn how to apply the Pity, Promise, Praise model when engaging external stakeholders on social.

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Class Resources

Hello. This is the lesson on social media in a crisis.

So I’m going to take you through some steps that you can take, that will help you to prepare for when things all go a bit Pete Tong on social media.

It will happen to almost any organisation at some point, it will be a reputational
crisis where for some reason, people think that your organisation is doing things wrong or that they’re attacking you in some way.

Maybe it’ll be more like an operational crisis where something has gone wrong in the supply chain or think about maybe KFC when they didn’t have any chicken.

Your version of that will happen at some point, and it’s really nice
for you to kind of take some steps to make sure that you’ve prepared as much as you can before that thing happens.

And if you’ve got any thoughts as we go through this lesson or you want to talk to us about your own crisis preparation, then give us a tweet or a LinkedIn mention and we’ll start chatting to you too.

So, let’s have a think about crisis comms on social media. And the first thing to
think about really – and this is the kind of thing that you might need to teach your colleagues outside of the Communications and Marketing function – but the way that we deal with a crisis has got to change because back in the day only 10 years ago, we might have had 24 hour news.

So things were a little bit kind of moving more quickly in those days because the TV
had meant that messages spread, you know journalists want to talk about stories all day long.

But social media has changed everything that not only does a piece of
news travel much more quickly, but lots more people
can get involved.

So if you think of any kind of crisis situation, the old days were much more
about managing the press, managing that bad line that had happened, kind of
rebutting statements and that kind of stuff.

Now we’ve got all of our consumers, our customers, our residents
whatever your audiences are, they’re all online and they’ll all have an opinion if they find out about it.

They can get involved and start having conversations, they can start telling other
people about their experiences, and it’s a much noisier place. So how do we deal with this?

Well, I have five steps that you can take to make sure that you feel
confident that at least when it happens you know what to do, and you’ve got everything in place to deal with it.

So my number one thing to do to prepare for it, when everything is going absolutely
bonkers, is make sure that you’ve got key people in your organisation who know what to do also.

And it can be really kind of tempting to think, oh well, we’ll be managing as a team, we’ll be managing this crisis ourselves.

So if we need to get a quick video of our Chief Executive explaining the situation, then we’ll be filming it and it’ll be fine.

But actually when this stuff happens, you need not only to be able to do this stuff to have a plan for how you’re going to cope with it.

But you need the people around you and the people that you’re going to be interviewing and getting sign-off from, to really understand what you’re doing as well.

And you can’t do that on the spot when everything is going incredibly quickly. You can’t train someone in how to deliver a great video statement. You can’t ask someone to have a look at this tweet that someone sent if they don’t even know what a tweet is.

And I know that that sounds a little bit extreme, but I would say you have to really think about an internal training program; who in your organisation is going
to be key in any kind of crisis situation.

So this will obviously be your Chief Executive. Have you spoken to them about what it would take to do a 30 second video updating people on what’s going on? Because your Chief Exec’s very busy and is probably used to delivering long videos of talking for ages at conferences or whatever it is. And you need to tell them actually in this scenario, we would need you to do in under 30 seconds and to cover these three points.

And I mean, I always refer to this, its beautiful for me, and any organisation I’ve worked in, I’ve always given the formula to my leadership team of Pity, Promise, Praise.

So when something happens, I want you to embody the human face of this organisation. I want you to show that you’re accountable person and that we’re not just kind of passing the buck. And I want you to show emotion.

I want you to, for people to feel their own emotion reflected back in you. So I always use this statement of Pity, Promise, Praise.

First of all, you say I’m so sorry this has happened. What an awful tragedy to happen. Or let’s think of the chicken – we’re absolutely devastated that people can’t have their chicken today.

And just something that makes you look like you’re with everyone else that you recognise that the situation is bad.

Then there’s promise – we’re going to look into this, we’re going to investigate it, we’re going to get chicken.

Then there is praise – thank you so much to the emergency services who turned up so quickly. Thank you so much to our suppliers who managed to get as much chicken as they could, so at least a few people had to have their chicken.

There are lots of different versions and examples of this, but train your internal influencers to know what they say when you need them so that you don’t have to do this kind of on the spot mentoring with someone, and just making do you’ll know that they’re ready to do it.

Don’t just think about leadership teams as well, you’ll probably have front line service staff who could be brilliant on camera. I often think back to my old career in the council and I always knew that I could rely on the Head of Trading Standards because he was kind of a personable person. I could rely on Glyn from the bins because, again, he was someone that you just trusted, he just had a real command of the camera.

And there’s loads of research that shows that people want to see people like themselves and they trust experts rather than political or figureheads.

So if you can get someone who’s the specialist in the thing that’s going on and train them to feel comfortable in front of a camera or to feel comfortable that when you tweet something out you know what you’re doing that they know what you’re doing.

They know why you’re saying it like you’re saying, they know why you said sorry, even though they think to themselves that they’re not sorry, and all of these things come up.

And the first step is deciding how you want to do things and make sure that those key people know why you’re doing it and what they can expect when you come up to them in a flap going “I need you, cancel your meetings, we’re going to go into crisis mode.”

They’ll know exactly what you mean, and they will, they’ll take it seriously. It’s really worth you considering having a bit of a plan for your response ratio when a crisis hits on social media.

So by this I mean, when everything is going on, you’ll get in larger volumes of comments and posts and videos and lots and lots of stuff coming in at you.

And sometimes you might find that in a crisis people are @ing you in your tweets for instance. So you’ll get notifications that people are talking about you or criticising you.

And then there’ll be other kinds of posts, there’ll be posts where they’re talking about you but they’re not talking to you.

So you might have to actively go and find those posts to find out what people are saying about you. So what is your decision around how you’ll deal with that.

If for instance, you think we would like to get on top of a crisis by answering every individual who comes in and says something to us. At what point will your team not be able to deal with that? So how many comments would be too many comments to deal with in a day? And it might be that a crisis situation, you even do it by the hour.

So you say, once we get to the point where we can see more than 300 notifications of comments to us in an hour we need to change course. So we won’t answer everyone at that point. We will just answer influencers, and if that’s the case, then when you just answer influencers, what does it take to be an influencer? Who are you looking for?

Are you going to have someone who specifically goes through accounts and sees whether there are any journalists any people with big social media followers followings. How are you going to deal with this? Because if you have to leave that decision till the day, then it takes precious time out of actually doing it.

So your response ratio is about how often will you respond in the early
stages when you can. That might not be you that you respond to every post it might be that you decide that you’re going to just post up with updates, and not individually reply to people.

But under what conditions would you individually reply to people? And that has to be kind of worked out. And this is really useful for you if you know that there are specific kinds of crisis that might hit your organisation and let’s say in public services, things like weather can turn into a crisis situation almost, even though they haven’t caused like huge amounts of snow.

People feel that there’s a crisis going on, they expect services from your organisation. So when that kind of stuff happens, you can plan out, right, at what point do we stop talking to people individually, and we put up a post that just gives people updates. Or when do you, at what point do we actively seek out a conversation with local journalists or local bloggers.

These are things to think about. This kind of leads nicely onto the third point, which is about planning your community assets. So let’s say you’ve got a real engaged community on Facebook and you know that you can get a message out there quickly.

You want to make sure that you’ve got a list of all the places that you can go to have
conversations with people and help people to spread the message that you need and to listen to what people are saying.

It can be easy to kind of forget this that not only do you have your own channels that you can broadcast on, but there will be specific interest groups on Facebook and LinkedIn and all of these places, hashtag chats even, where key audiences are talking and they may well be talking about you.

So are you going to just push stuff out from your channels or are you going to actively go into those groups and add information there and ask people to get involved and share that for you.

The other thing to think about is the influencers in your field. So you might find that they’re influential bloggers or there are influential journalists or experts, politicians.

If you’re going to need them at some point and they’re going to help you in a crisis, then you need to build that relationship with them early.

You need to make sure that they know who you are, so you don’t just come running at them with a request that actually they feel that they’ve got something to repay because you’ve been an active and useful member of their community. So list out your community assets.

But also like highlight specific influencers who you would like to share your messages and to show some support for you and actively build that relationship even if it’s just by retweeting their stuff by thanking them occasionally or sending them a private message and saying, we consider you to be very influential to our community.

Is there anything that we can do to help, because we think at some point you know we’d like you to help us and we’d like it to be a mutual relationship.

Don’t be afraid to plan those well like relationships are what will help you in a crisis because if no one’s on your side and you can’t get a message out, then you’re stuck with a longer playing-out crisis.

One thing I say that all people in all Comms jobs should do, is plan a live blog area. And this sounds really odd and I’m just I’m not sure that lots of organisations do this. But in a crisis, it turns out to be incredibly useful. So a live blog is just any form of web page where you constantly update on the situation with the most important thing, and the newest thing at the top.

And the reason that this works so well is, in a crisis you don’t often have time to do an awful lot of media relations and social media updates and internal updates and all of this stuff that you can’t just decide. We’re just going to put it all in one place and link people to it and it works quite well when things are moving very rapidly.

So it could be that you say at 5:00 PM there’s nothing new to report, but we’re going to come back to you at 6:00 PM with an update from our Chief Exec. Or 7:00 PM, we’ve just found out that the person involved in this scandal has been speaking to a journalist and there will be a new story to follow. Something like that where you constantly look like you’re updating people, but you don’t have to fiddle around putting it on all of your channels.

I’ve been in this situation in a crisis where we had a live blog situation, and I could just tell the team, just schedule some tweets out saying “for all the latest information on this scenario have a look at the live blog”. And then you know it’s always up to date because whenever people are clicking on it, they’re seeing the most up to date thing.

It meant journalists could do it that way as well. Journalists don’t want to be having to wait for statements on email. If they can keep an eye on that page as well, great. But you’re updating everyone in one fell swoop. Also, it shows people that you’re not panicking and you’re not ignoring it.

The biggest thing about the crisis on social media is when people feel like there’s no information, so they must be hiding something, and I’m going to go and investigate and find out what information they’re trying to hide is. And it’s a really weird instinct. I’m the same whenever I see a crisis play out and I look at Twitter, I always think, oh juicy let’s see what I can find out and I’ll do some keyword searches and see what people are saying about it.

The less you say in a crisis situation in a social media world, the more people will fill in the gaps. So you’ve got to at least just keep people realising that you are on the case, that you’re not afraid of this story, that you haven’t run off and hoped that it will die, because it won’t. And you need to show that you recognise that.

Last thing to think about when planning just have some fake scenarios and test them out with your team. And I do loads. I mean, I love simulated crises and sometimes I’ll do with team simulated a simulated crisis where we’ll do something where the Chief Execs accidentally swore on Twitter or where a service has gone incredibly wrong and someone’s had an awful time, a product has been recalled because it’s dangerous and it killed someone.

All of these different kinds of scenarios, we’ll test it out, I will say imagine if this happened how would we deal with it. And sometimes you can go for really silly scenarios that wouldn’t even happen, or you can go for very specific things that you think might happen.

But plan out some of the things, the tweets – imagine yourself as the angriest, most adversarial person that could ever deal with you, and write some tweets as they would. Put them to your team and say, how would you deal with that.

Because sometimes the practice of dealing with it takes the sting and the panic out when you’re dealing with it in the real world.

It will never be as you planned it, but you’ll at least go into some situation where you know the chain of command.

You know who you’d speak to, you know the kind of tone of voice you take and you know that it happens to everyone, and you just need to get through this. And so that’s my fifth step.

And I’ll throw in a bonus step; always have a draw with some water and some biscuits in it because if a crisis happens, you’ll be working harder, and if you don’t get time to have lunch or eat something your brain will go weird and it’s always nice to have something to keep the team’s energy up. And that is how you plan for a social media crisis.

If you would like to download the check list, I put the checklist there was a few extra points for you to think about in preparation for your crisis.

But that’s it for this lesson, I’ll see you the next one.

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Your tutor – Hel Reynolds
Hel Reynolds is an award-winning social media and digital communications pro. Her social media training has seen amazing results for participants, who go on to be more strategic, create better content and grow engaged audiences for their organisations.

Hel Reynolds