Thursday, July 7, 2011

Social Media for Crisis Management: Using Your Powers for Your Own Good

Recently, an acquaintance Twittered me about a potential crisis situation at an event they were attending. I checked the event Twitter Feed and found that the event itself was, quite conspicuously, *not* tweeting about situation.

Nearly an hour passed before the event's feed mentioned the crisis - and only to say that it had been handled and nothing important had occurred. In the meantime, thousands of tweets had gone out about the situation. Many people were looking at the official feed for information and finding nothing. Worse, during that time, the official feed was commenting about a photo shoot elsewhere in the event, making the event look clueless and self-absorbed.

What does that say about the event's understanding and use of their own resources?

Whether you're dealing with a unsatisfied customer, or an emergency situation at your office, there are a few things you must use your Social Media presence for at all times:

Know What Is Being Said About You

If you are on the Internet, there is no good reason to not at least have a Google Alert set up to see who is saying what about you where. More advanced listening and monitoring tools are available, many of them are free. This doesn't have to be complicated. Make it part of your morning with-coffee reading.

Whoever is charge of Social Media for your company - whether it's you or a hired hand -  should have a command center view of what is being said where about your business. This view allows you to know when a situation is brewing, what questions people are asking about your company and what issues are of importance to them. Paying attention to what's being said about your business online is as key a listening skill as pay attention to your customers when they ask for help.

At this event, clearly there was someone Twittering - and, just as clearly, there was no one monitoring Twitter to see what situations, questions, complaints and issues were arising.
In the meantime, people *were* using Twitter to try and identify the problem and communicate whether the situation was serious or not to other attendees.

It would have been far better for the event to have taken control of the situation instantly to provide information, but they let the moment pass, and the control of their Twitter feed slipped right out of their hands.

Be In Control of Your Own News

We all prefer to learn important news from people involved, rather than second- or third-hand. Obviously, if your child comes home from school with a bad grade, you hope they will tell you, so you don't have to learn it from their teacher.

When your company is facing a crisis, your consumers, followers, fans want to hear from *you.* Not a newspaper, or a third party. And if you aren't breaking your own news, someone else will be glad to break it for you.

No one wants to share bad news, but before a situation spirals out of control is the best time to take control of that news and be seen as reliable and transparent by your stakeholders.

Keep Your Customers Informed

Once a situation occurs, it's already too late to keep the cat in the bag. Your stakeholders will know about it almost as soon as you do.  If they are keyed into Social Media, they may know about *before* you do. They will look to you for guidance and communication. They may want answers, but more than anything else, they want leadership - and they want it from you.

Now is not the time to stay secluded and work on a slick strategy. Now is definitely not the time to ignore the bad news and post happy, shiny news. Now is the time to get in front of the messaging and be visible and present, so stakeholders are reassured that things are not falling apart at the top and the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

Provide Solutions Before They're Needed

In the case of this event, a few official tweets asking people to stay calm, stay away from the area in question and assurances that inconveniences would be cleared up as quickly as possible, would have gone a long way to keeping the area clear. In the meantime, officials could well be hampered by curious crowds, while rumors spread online.

Even better, if the official feed had provided alternate access routes, meeting points, and communications venues, the message received by attendees would have been that the event had itself completely together. Instead, they received radio silence, as rumors spread.

In Times of Crisis...Have A Plan 

Having a crisis strategy for your Social Media is just as important as having an emergency plan for your office. Of course no one wants to plan for catastrophe, but having a plan in place will, at minimum, save your company's reputation, and could gain your company respect for the way it handles the moment.

Listen to what's being said, stay in control of the situation and on top of the messaging - set a groundwork for social media use in a crisis -  for your own good.
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