By Chris Syme
Editor’s Note: This is a great blog post that gives you an overview of what you can do, right now, to prevent a crisis. However, if you would like to learn more about each specific tactic, I invite you to listen to episode #015 of The Crisis Intelligence Podcast, where Chris and I discuss the “how to’s” and “must do’s” of each of these three tactics – and more!
A fast food worker stomps in a lettuce bin and posts it on YouTube. A company with two plane crashes in the last year asks people to post their bucket list destinations on social media. A social media manager loses their temper in a customer service post on Facebook. We’ve all seen these and so many more that it would take a massive wiki to list them all. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of these types of events online. But, are they a crisis? Not necessarily. Many are just negative incidents—smoke on the horizon, if you will. But neglected, they can turn into a full blown reputation crash and even a pretty big hit to the bottom line.
How to avoid a public relations crisis
Everyone is using social media for marketing today. But does everyone who holds the reins know how to use it well and exercise good judgment? That’s a whole different ball of wax, as my mom used to say. Here are three tactics you can employ now that will significantly lower the odds that a social media flub will trigger a public relations crisis.
1) Provide social media training for everyone that operates as an admin on a brand account
Your social media manager needs to be more than someone who just knows how to schedule posts on Facebook. If they are in any way responsible for content, customer service, monitoring or answering fan questions, they need to have a deeper level of training. Here are some of the topics this training needs to include:
- Issues management: being able to sort out what needs to be answered and what does not. Every negative comment does not need an answer. As a matter of fact, sometimes you can make it worse if you “interrupt the conversation” when someone is just trying to vent. Managers need to understand escalation and know when an issue is approaching a need for entering the conversation.
Here’s a resourceful flow chart that will help you with this. Great news: It’s a free download!
- Understand triage response: All managers need to know who should answer when a conversation escalates or a question is asked by a fan. Unless they have been specifically trained, there are some issues that need to jump the fence and go to the PR people quickly.
- Platforms: Managers need to be trained on the platforms they use. Do they know how to use filters on Facebook to weed out obscenities and hate speech? Do they know how to get a video up quickly on YouTube or Instagram? Do they understand the culture of each platform so they know what “voice” to use? Facebook isn’t Twitter, right?
- Simulations and crisis training: I believe that your front line people in social should have the same training that your communications and PR people do. Try to remember they are your first responders and if you train them well, they can extinguish a lot of forest fires.
For more on crisis simulations and trainings, click here.
- Marketing and PR basics: Even though your social media managers might not be entrenched in your marketing strategy, you should include them. They should be familiar with the cycles of a crisis—to know what triggers a change in sentiment and how to watch for that. They should be aware of what campaigns are running and what the goals are.
2) Social media training for users in the organization
Whether you have employees, coaches, student-athletes, or anyone that represents your brand, it’s a good idea to give them some basic training on how to use social media responsibly. Call it professional development, if you like, or call it character development. Social media has such potential for good and the same potential for harm. We need to help people understand that.
Also, if your organization has a social media policy that governs online activity during work hours (such as a BYOD program), that should be discussed as well. Do you have a social media advocacy program? Those people need some help as well. Teaching people how to use social media responsibly is empowering. But remember it is a double-edged sword. If you teach people how to use it, they may expose your blind spots. Just be ready to deal with that.
3) Set up a SMMS (Social Media Management System) that is designed to post and monitor conversations about your brand
Training managers and internal teams to use social media is half of the crisis prevention equation. The other half is monitoring the conversations around your brand on social media and the internet. This is where you can spot the smoke on the horizon and keep an eye on it. The benefits of monitoring will help you understand why you need to be doing it. These benefits include:
- Being able to discover early warning signs of trouble.
- Identify key critics and watchdogs.
- Identify key influencers and advocates—you will need them in a crisis.
- Identify which social media channels best suit your fans.
- Know what your competitors are doing.
What conversations should you be listening to? Here’s a list to get you started:
- Conversations about your brand: know what the normal sentiment is towards your brand and pay attention when it changes.
- Listen to conversation about you in the traditional media. Don’t forget newpapers, blogs, chat rooms, and magazines.
- What are your enemies or watchdogs saying?
- What are your core influencers saying?
- What is the media saying? Are they the source of misinformation? Do you need to reach out to them in private?
These three social media tactics, anchored in a regular risk analysis can go a long way to helping you prevent a crisis. According to Atimeter’s Jeremiah Owyang, possibly at much as 76 percent.
Chris Syme is principal at CKSyme.org, a consulting firm in Bozeman, Montana. Her agency specializes in reputation and crisis communication services including online crisis monitoring and social media training. Find out more at www.cksyme.org.
She is a frequent conference presenter on the national stage in the areas of crisis communications, reputation recovery, and social media advocacy programs. She is author of the book Listen, Engage, Respond – Crisis Communications in Real-Time.