*This post originally appeared on Forbes. To read the original, visit Forbes.com.
Have you experienced a social media troll or seen unwanted solicitations appear on your Facebook page? Chances are good that if this has not yet happened to you, it will. Soon. So what do you do about it?
Today, it is critical to be prepared with a plan to respond when a social media crisis occurs – because it will likely happen sooner or later.
Prepare For The Worst, Hope For The Best
Next week, lock your key stakeholders in a conference room and don’t let them out until they have completed this exercise. While that may seem extreme, it is that important! Developing a clear plan of action – identifying all possible negative events and writing out the company response will save you time, stress and unneeded negativity in the event that something happens. While this sounds daunting, it can be pretty simple, and maybe even a little fun with the right attitude.
- Create a social media crisis management document.
Brainstorm all possible events that could negatively impact your business. Your plan should include the various potential crisis scenarios; the complaint origin and its reach, who is impacted in each situation (individuals, current customers, potential customers, general public, staff), the classification of the complaint (more on this later), who is responsible for responding (marketing, public relations, agency, management), and the recommended response, including the verbiage, tone and location of the response. As for potential scenarios, include everything from company embezzlement to negative press to an angry customer or sabotaging competitor.
Last February, my agency was were working with a very popular wedding planner. Just before Valentine’s Day, she posted a lighthearted blog post on why she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day – commercialization, overpriced flowers, forced gifts in schools. It took about 10 minutes for the outcry of texts, Facebook messages and comments to begin. While this was an unforeseen response, it caused immediate chaos. She elected to remove the blog from her website and social pages and issue private apologies to those offended.
- Identify the origin of the complaint.
Is it really a crisis? Where did the crisis initiate? Which channels are fueling the crisis? For our wedding planner, a full-on crisis was averted by taking quick action: The negative attention died as soon as the post was removed. If you are facing a potential event, gauge the depth and breadth. Is it one person on one network? Or has the conversation (awareness) spread into the mainstream media?
- Identify who it could impact.
There are two primary audiences during a crisis: those directly affected and those whose attitudes about the company could be influenced. Determine which group is being impacted the most and what that impact could possibly be for each situation.
To see this in action, monitor Twitter when a local cable provider has an outage; you will see who was directly impacted by a situation. How the cable provider responds will determine if there will be a lasting impact on the brand.
- Categorize the commenter.
In general, there are five types of posts (widespread criticism, individual solution-seekers, trolls, solicitors and fan-to-fan interaction) that could cause problems on your social profiles, which Rodney Hess outlines in a “Practical Ecommerce” article.
I recently came across a fan-to-fan interaction that influenced my buying decision: I was interested in a swimwear brand until I read through the comments on a sponsored post. There were about 50 comments of frustrated customers (no refunds, slow shipping, poor quality products, unresponsive customer service). This lack of customer service was reinforced when the company had elected to ignore all comments; not one of the 50-plus comments came from the company.
- Formulate your response to each situation.
Provide honest and straightforward answers that reflect your brand’s voice, beliefs and culture. Avoid pointing the blame. You will gain respect if you talk about how you plan to fix the issue before going into what, how and why it happened.
Once this is completed, share the document with your legal counsel, public relations, marketing and management teams. Gain buy-in across all departments. The more rapid the response, the lower the risk of the crisis getting out of hand. A quick, appropriate response can turn a dissatisfied customer into a brand advocate.
Beyond this crisis management document, there are a few additional actions that you can put in place to prevent some issues from ever arising:
- Post a public commenting policy on your social media accounts and blog to provide guidelines for others wanting to comment on your posts. (Here is a good example of one on Travel Oregon’s Facebook page.)
- Have a social media policy within your company handbook that clearly states the expectations of employees on what they can and cannot say on corporate pages and personal pages.
- Assign at least one person to monitor your social media accounts, reviews and web mentions. Having a trusted individual (or team) that understands your brand values, products, and the appropriate response to situations will mitigate issues quickly. Empower them to respond quickly.
While I hope you never experience a crisis, you will sleep better at night knowing you are prepared.