Why Your Social Media Crisis Response Plan Should Start Yesterday

Crisis ResponseIf we’ve learned anything from social media, it’s that you never know when a crisis moment will strike. If you’re adept at social media listening and engagement, however, your brand will have an easier time weathering the storm and emerging relatively unscathed.

A strong listening and engagement strategy can help preserve, or even improve your brand’s reputation in a crisis. Here are three ways to help make that happen.

Start Planning Long Before a Crisis

For bigger brands with huge followings, timely responses can make or break how a crisis proceeds. With a solid social listening and engagement strategy in place before that troublesome moment hits, a transition into crisis mode can be much smoother than you think.

Also remember that a crisis can strike any time, even on holidays when much of your staff, and customers, are supposed to be relaxing. A crisis moment isn’t the time to begin developing your brand’s listening skills and response plan. Start yesterday, and if your brand earns a reputation for being a good listener that frequently engages its fans and followers, they’ll be that much quicker to support you once a crisis moment strikes.

Listen Carefully During the Crisis

During a crisis point, obviously you’ll wish to monitor all relevant conversations. But exactly what kind of volume and sentiment are you dealing with? Which people and which blogs/websites are critical of your brand? Which ones are supportive? Are your competitors joining in with an empathetic message, or scoring cheap points at your expense?

Monitoring social media will help you see the crisis from the public’s perspective, shaping your language and adjusting your response tactics. Maybe those discussing your brand are keeping the conversation light, more poking fun at rather than outright raging against your brand. Getting a handle on the sentiment around your brand during the crisis moment could show in such a case that the “crisis” may be overblown. Take a moment to step back, breathe, and read through those posts. If the volume is insane, sort by the negative posts first and start reading, see exactly what type of sentiment you’re going to be responding to.

The Aftermath

Anyone can get caught with their pants down, it happens to the best of brands. The crucial moment in a social media crisis is your first public response. By carefully monitoring how the social conversations around your brand progressed, you’ll have a good idea what tone your response should contain. If something serious has gone down, keep your response equally serious. If, however, you noted that much of the conversation seemed centered on more light-hearted laughs at your brand’s expense, it may be best to keep your first response a bit more casual. A serious response to could almost make the crisis appear much worse than it was.

Burger King’s first Twitter response to their recent hacking was suitably in line with the crisis’ severity. They even worked in the fact that, in a bit of good fortune, the brand’s account collected a large number of new followers.

And of course, don’t stop listening just because the crisis has passed. Monitor social media for sentiment around your brand, comparing sentiment levels before, during, and after the crisis. Is your brand’s stock beginning to rise again? If not, why not?

You need to be aware of unresolved issues and lingering frustrations that may need fixing. Now is definitely the time to step up your engagement.

(Note: This post originally appeared on the Salesforce Marketing Cloud blog on February 20, 2013.)

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