Organisations have come to rely on social media as a key part of their communications strategy. Ben Nimmo, Founder and CTO of Orlo, offers advice on how effective social media management can make all the difference during times of crisis.
A crisis can happen at any time, anywhere, and affect any organisation. In the UK last year there were several tragic terror attacks, severe weather systems, and incidents of ‘fake news’ that resulted in widespread panic and casualties.
So how can organisations ensure they are prepared to deal with crisis scenarios when they happen? Social media is so widely used and offers such real-time interaction that this is now a key channel in every communications plan. Having a defined, documented and well-rehearsed social media strategy, which supports and enhances a wider communications plan, is key to communicating timely, accurate and concise information to the public in the event of a crisis.
With help from some of the diverse organisations we work with, we have put together a comprehensive 10 Point Plan to guide you on how to manage a crisis on social media.
1. Start With Good Governance
Honing day-to-day best practices will ultimately assist when a crisis arises. Darren Caveney, from strategic consultants comms2point0, explains:
“Picture the scene: A member of staff goes rogue and begins posting on one of your organisational social media accounts. Reputational damage ensues. Your Chief Executive rushes into the office and asks you to take it down immediately. ‘Sorry, we don’t have the password’, is going to make for a really uncomfortable coming few hours. Don’t let it happen to you.”
The advice? Ensure that the communications team has access to the passwords of every single social media account, especially when they change, and that these passwords are logged securely for accessing at times of crisis and are managed centrally through your management platform.
2. Agree A Strategy Ahead Of Time
Key decision makers should plan the strategy in advance, matching responsibilities to people who can take action, and outlining how these plans compliment the wider communication strategy. This ensures a brand’s reputation and values are upheld and that consistent messages are delivered across channels.
Manchester City Council’s Communications Team shared their first actions after the terrorist attack on Manchester Arena in May 2017:
“The Council’s Communications team has a clear plan for major incidents and that includes the management of our social media platforms. Working with partners, we ensured that clear, concise and accurate messages were shared, not just to Manchester residents but across the world. As agreed in our plan, for the initial response, Greater Manchester Police’s messages take primacy and our first responsibility is to amplify these messages to ensure the biggest reach – ultimately to protect and inform people during those confusing first hours.”
3. Choose Your Channels And Content Carefully
When communicating messages, it’s important to consider your audiences, the social media channels they use and the type of content they respond to. Maximising your reach in this way will encourage engagement and awareness. It’s also key to consider the suitability of existing or scheduled content during these times.
Manchester City Council’s Communications Team reacted to ensure the content on their social media accounts remained appropriate:
“All scheduled content was stopped for a week. It was essential that the tone of our accounts reflected the city’s strength and public response.”
4. Amplify Messages From Official Bodies
Police forces, government sources and service partners often provide the official line on developing crisis situations. Sharing and amplifying posts from these bodies ensures the information being circulated is reliable and appropriate for the wider public, and provides meaningful social media content.
Andrew Purchase, Senior Communications Manager from West Midlands Combined Authority says this is a key part of their strategy.
“Staying in close contact with operators in the region during incidents allows us to better understand what’s going on at ground level and what the needs of customers are. They also help us to maintain the information available so it is the most up to date. To complement this, we share operator information on social media, as well as publish our own content around the incident, to position us as a reliable, up-to-date, one-stop-shop for public transport information in the West Midlands.”
5. Engage Proactively With Audiences
As enquiries increase during incidents, it’s important to move away from solely reactive action.
Kayla Sheik, Head of Social Customer Services at Virgin Trains, outlines their proactive strategy:
“In crisis scenarios, our messaging and social listening switch from a more reactive to proactive approach. We focus on prioritising inbound messages in real-time and processing and actioning information available with accurate social listening.”
6. Update Content Regularly
Websites are likely to see a rise in visits during crisis scenarios as members of the public look to official channels for answers.
Sheik explains why updating website content regularly is essential:
“Ensuring the correct and most up-to-date information is readily available on our website and on social is crucial. We point customers with straight-forward enquiries to this information, freeing up more time to respond to the more complex or urgent enquiries.”
7. Little Details, Such As Language, Really Matter
When planning your content consider every detail, including the language and tone you’re using, to dictate how your messages are interpreted by your audiences.
David Bailey, Senior Communications Manager at Staffordshire Police, considers this carefully:
“The language we choose to describe activity is important. For example, ‘we are responding to reports of….’ is regularly used. This phrase communicates that we are finding out more, without causing too much alarm. What we need to avoid in crisis situations is losing the position of trust built up over years of successful communications with the public.”
8. Factor In Additional Resources
During Storm Doris, Virgin Trains received around 8,000 messages in one day, significantly above their usual daily average of 1,445 messages per day. Setting aside a plan of action to bring in more resources, including factoring in time for training and providing additional equipment, is crucial to ensuring important messages aren’t missed and the organisation is responding in a timely way.
9. Out Of Hours Is Just As Important As Standard Operating Hours
The flurry of activity and messages won’t stop when your standard operating hours end. If a crisis begins out of hours, there needs to be a backup plan. Planning a contingent for when your workforce goes home for the day should not be overlooked. Organise employees to take shifts, or provide on-the-go resources so employees can continue to work at home.
Darren from comms2point0 explains why this is so important:
“Don’t let your out of hours response be a single point of failure – ‘oh Dave is on call this weekend so he’ll pick it up’. Don’t assume. Pre-prepare for what will happen in the event of a weekend crisis landing – think who, what, where, when and how so that panic doesn’t kick in. This should all be clearly laid out in your organisation’s emergency or business continuity plan and make sure this plan is reviewed at least once a year, especially as staff come and go.”
10. Invest In The Right Tools
Is your organisation investing in technology that supports effective social media communications? There’s no point having a clear strategic plan if you are not able to execute it when it matters most. Social media management platforms, like Orlo, are specifically-designed to help you deal with a high volume of inbound messages, effectively. The social listening capabilities built into many management platforms will also give you early visibility on a developing situation, allowing you to be on the front foot with your response.