Gini Dietrich

How to Clearly Define Your Social Media Crisis Plan

By: Gini Dietrich | June 20, 2017 | 
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Social Media CrisisIt’s been an interesting year, so far, in the world of a social media crisis.

From Voldemort using Twitter as official White House statements to J.K. Rowling and Stephen King dissecting everything he tweets , the stage has been set for outcries and uproars.

It’d be really easy to talk about the social media crises the White House continues to have because of 5 a.m. bathroom tweets, but the truth is people have for years been using Twitter to cry out against the injustices of the world.

Everything from Whoopi Goldberg being confused as Oprah and tweeting that Tammy Duckworth can’t “stand up” for Americans to Miracle Mattress and their twin towers sale to Vera Bradley and their “girly” campaign.

Leave it to those with a keyboard and a Twitter account to prove someone on the internet wrong.

It’s oftentimes quite fun to sit on the sidelines and watch.

But what happens if you accidentally screw up and are dealt a social media crisis?

Show Me the Money!

I know, I know.

Most executives think it’ll never happen to them.

Or they think it can be handled in the eye of the storm.

But the truth of the matter is, no one makes a great, non-emotional decision in the middle of a social media crisis.

That’s why crisis communications firms can charge so much money—people get desperate for their help and don’t care, as long as it’s fixed.

But there also is a big difference between an issue and a social media crisis.

If it’s just an issue, you probably can deal with it in the eye of the storm (though not really recommended).

So what is the difference?

An Issue vs. a Crisis

You want to refer back to this list often.

In fact, I’d go ahead and jot it down on a post-it note.

Stick it to your computer, where you can see it every day.

That way, when you’re in the thick of things, you’ll know where you stand—and if you need to quickly bring in professional help.

An issue:

  • Is not harmful to an organization’s reputation;
  • Does not affect the bottom line;
  • Can almost always be avoided;
  • Can escalate into a crisis, if not handled immediately; and
  • Is a blip in the 24/7 news cycle.

A crisis, on the other hand:

  • Has long-term repercussion on an organization’s reputation;
  • Generates a loss of money…generally lots of it; and
  • Can always be avoided.

Most of us face issues every day…they are things that can be avoided and can be managed fairly efficiently and easily.

When they escalate into crises, though, is when we let the events get the better of us.

Define Your Social Media Crisis Plan

When an issue becomes a social media crisis, one of two things can happen:

  1. You can pay a gazillion dollars to have professional help because you were not ready; or
  2. You can have a social media crisis plan.

Here are six things to include in your social media crisis planning meeting:

  1. What’s the worst thing that could happen? This is where you brainstorm every possible worst case scenario that could happen to your organization. This should capture everything from marketing campaigns that go off the rails (like this Sea World campaign), to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Not all crisis has an external source either. Prepare for things your executive team could do. These might include a poorly thought-out social media posts, sexual harassment, or tax evasion. Include employees at varying levels from departments across your organization.
  2. Is this scenario an issue or a crisis? An issue is a kerfuffle—it isn’t going to do damage to your company’s reputation or your bottom line. But, if you don’t deal with it quickly, it could morph into a crisis. A crisis, in comparison, negatively affects your company’s reputation and results in a significant loss of revenue. A negative comment directed at your company on Facebook is an issue; your product exploding and being banned from being taken aboard aircraft by the FAA is a crisis.
  3. How big is our risk? Not all crises demand all-hands-on-deck and sleeping in the office until they are resolved. Rank your scenarios on a scale of one to three, with a three being low risk (but still important) and a one involving setting up sleeping bags in the boardroom.
  4. Can it be prevented? You can’t prevent every unhappy customer or predict manufacturing issues that can cause a need for product recalls, but there are some things you can at least work towards preventing (like an ill-conceived marketing campaign) through better due diligence or more thorough planning and training.
  5. What would escalate a crisis? Sometimes a crisis may start off as a three, but rapidly escalate. What are factors that could cause an escalation?
  6. Who needs to know and when? Although some people like to call a news conference whenever a thought enters their heads, not all crises merit a public mass communication. If you receive a negative review on an industry review site, for instance, you should make your sales and customer service teams aware of it, and provide some talking points, but you don’t need to issue a news release refuting it point-by-point (over-defensive much?). But if an executive is leaving the company to head up a rival firm, pretty much everyone needs to know, ASAP, starting with your employees, board members, and investors. Failure to get out in front of a story like this is a great example of how a crisis escalates.

While a social media crisis plan won’t be able to account for everything that could happen, the process of planning will.

Defining how you will respond, and who will be involved in which activities, goes a long way to helping you keep a cool head and react thoughtfully when the unexpected arises.

(Not to mention save you a gazillion dollars from having to hire the pros. Save that for the real crises—such as a product recall or an imprisoned CEO.)

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

  • Howie Goldfarb

    Wow it was just yesterday I outed Mr Edelman for that ridiculously rude offensive comment when on that conference panel. I woke and saw their stock down 62%. Now this post. It was just an honest comment I did not expect the repercussions to be like this. I must say I am pretty f-n pleased with myself.

    I saw this happen with Chobani and their mold crisis (off line crisis moved to online) and then the hammering they took hiding while Ben and Jerry’s confronted the truth in labeling / gmo issues. To be honest I can’t say if B&Js was tactical/strategic from a Unilever stand point or if just the hippy owners pushed it because its something they would discuss and they got lucky but I watched how both handled online/social media pressure and the effects.

    Now B&Js has negative PR because they are fighting allowing migrant farm workers to collective bargain and against setting minimum pay/working relations. You would think they would use the same playbook but they are doing the head/sand strategy.

    https://vtdigger.org/2017/06/19/dairy-workers-lead-13-mile-march-ben-jerrys/

    Surprised they aren’t trying to lead on this issue too.

    • I’d like to think my blog post about Edelman last week did that! LOL

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