Thursday 08 December 2016

Friday Five: The Power of Leveraging Social Media During a Crisis

Why It Matters by Danielle Marone

In the 24/7 news cycle, a scandal or crisis might be just around the corner. Brands, therefore, need to understand how to fully leverage social media to handle these situations. Edelman’s Trust Barometer tells us that traditional media sources are still the most trusted; however, social media saw the biggest percentage increase in trust among media sources. Additionally, crises travel at the speed of light on the Internet and it’s often now the “people like me” who break news or escalate it online, driving awareness even before traditional media outlets can report on it.

Issues can explode overnight and change direction minute by minute, so the first few hours of a crisis are critical to a company’s reputation, brand and image. Here are five ways brands can effectively navigate crisis situations with social media:

1. Prepare

It’s imperative that brands be as proactive as possible and prepare as if a crisis is inevitable at any given moment. A crisis management team should be assembled and a plan should be developed beforehand, addressing various scenarios that can be activated at a moment’s notice. The team should have protocols in place to respond to issues on each of its social channels and should practice against these issues through simulations or drills so that the crisis isn’t the first time the team experiences stress. Additionally, each social channel should have proper community guidelines in place to help community managers enforce ground rules. Community managers should go through training sessions similar to approved media spokespeople to ensure that they are fully briefed on the rapid response process and have confidence navigating significant developments.

2. Listen/Monitor

On the occasion that a crisis arises, the first 24 hours are critical and online monitoring should be immediately activated to provide analysis of the social media landscape surrounding the issue.  The analysis should provide a snapshot of key online influencers, competitors and locations that drive conversation about the issue and have the ability to shape public perceptions. The crisis management team can then take these valuable insights to determine the correct course of action and response. Monitoring activities need to go beyond just following what is happening on a brand’s own social channels, but include conversations about the brand or key topic areas, in addition to online advertisements, websites, online advocacy efforts (e.g., petitions) and much more. The most effective monitoring activities not only provide a clear overview of what is happening for the crisis management team, but also give some indication of what might be still to come (e.g., trends in SEO, sentiment or tone, registration of new URLs, etc.)

3. Evaluate

After brands listen and monitor the conversation happening about the issue, it’s important to evaluate the following:  Who is driving the conversation? What is being said? Why is it being said? What is the velocity of the conversation? Where is the conversation taking place? Brands cannot effectively respond unless they have a clear grasp of what information is already out there and available. Edelman’s BlogLevel and TweetLevel can be helpful tools in identifying key influencers—including brand advocates and detractors—to provide a keen understanding of how to engage with these influencers to manage perceptions. Brands can better help protect and manage their reputation by knowing when to engage the conversation with their content to reach the right audiences and to even better understand what content needs to be created to correct misinformation and address questions or concerns.

4. Engage

Some brands think they cannot be active on social media or online during a crisis, but often not responding to a question can be just as damaging. At the very least, it is important to make sure your messages are findable online. This can be as simple as posting content on a “dark” page that is turned on, providing information directly to a blogger or third party to respond on your behalf or by buying Google keyword ads to direct traffic to a press release or FAQ document posted online. As noted above, the preparation phase should include message development that can be used to respond on social platforms and educate the audience in a unified social brand voice. After evaluating your brand’s key supporters you can also leverage brand advocates through online conversations. By actively engaging online, brands will have the opportunity to correct and positively influence the flow of information.

5. Restore Reputation

Even before a crisis has run its course, brands must start the process of restoring their reputations. It is important that brands understand that their response to a crisis will impact their ability to build back trust. If they handle the response well, then re-establishing trust won’t be as difficult—but if they remain silent or handle it poorly, then they may be in store for a Herculean task. First, brands should continue to monitor/listen online to mitigate any new issues or developments that may arise, correct false information and gain insights into consumer sentiment towards the brand.  From there, brands should continue to respond and address concerns through social channels or direct them to online content, toll-free lines, etc. for more information and updates on the issue. Reputation will also hinge on the voice of credible third parties to advocate on behalf of the brand so it’s important that brands continue to work with these groups and provide updates, as appropriate. Finally, brands should start to return to business as usual and begin to highlight good work and other initiatives through traditional and social media – it’s important to note though that this process should be deliberate and slow so it doesn’t come across as some sort of smokescreen to try to erase or distract from the crisis.

Determining how to use social media during a crisis can be the difference between a brand’s survival and failure. Sometimes unfortunate things will happen and in the ever-growing digital world there needs to be a strategy in place to leverage social media. By planning ahead and understanding the power of social media during a crisis, brands can take steps to help minimize risk and address issues that may come their way. Have you ever had to manage a crisis online using social media?

Storm photo courtesy of BigStock.

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