5 Ways to Manage a Social Media Crisis in Your Professional Services FirmBy Sylvia Montgomery

With new ways to communicate come new ways to miscommunicate, as global brands, politicians, teenagers, and everyone in between have discovered in recent years.

For professional services firms, social media represents a powerful opportunity to connect with target audiences, lead the conversation in industries, and demonstrate subject matter expertise.

But using social media effectively means knowing what to do before, during, or after a mishap.

Below are five ways to manage a social media crisis for today’s professional services firms, based both on recent research and the instructive experience of folks who learned these lessons the hard way.

1) Preventing a Social Media Crisis is Key

Ideally, you’ll anticipate crises before they occur.

One step is to educate top executives at your firm on social media etiquette and best practices for different platforms. Simply explain the basics—what’s private and what’s not—to eliminate embarrassing and easily preventable mistakes.

Another step in the education process is to develop a social media policy that is shared with all firm employees. Recognize that most individuals will engage in some sort of personal social media activity.

Given that personal and professional lines will cross, early education is the best prevention.

When you recognize that 60 percent of a firm’s prospects use social media to evaluate providers, the importance of education becomes clear.

With such a high degree of attention to social media presence, firms should take it as seriously as having a strong website presence.

2) Prepare for the Most Likely Scenarios

No one can anticipate every possible social media crisis, but you can be prepared.

For starters, brainstorm the types of possible social media accidents that can require a response—these are going to vary on the types of services your firm offers.

For example, a construction company is going to have field staff and subcontractors, whereas a technology firm may have overseas consultants.

Once you’ve run through this drill of possible crises, you’ll be in a better position to develop a plan that outlines roles and responsibilities and the various steps for escalation.

Especially one that details the process for drafting crisis follow-up content, engaging legal counsel or the media, as needed, and approving social media posts for publication.

This plan should include a template timeline that describes frequency of posting as well as the platforms you will use during the crisis.

You should also have a follow-up plan in place so you’re ready to resume social media activity once the crisis has passed.

3) Stay Calm and Be Confident

In one respect, crisis communications are the same as any communications: Your delivery is just as important as your message. Indeed, it shapes your message.

In the course of a crisis, be succinct and be honest. Vague or misleading statements can only fan the flames, angering stakeholders and critics.

Once you’ve acknowledged a crisis, you must be honest about the issue at hand—even when it is difficult— to contain matters.

4) Maintain the Conversation

Social media fosters a lot of one-on-one dialogue that may be unfamiliar to firms more accustomed to other communications contexts.

That’s part of the unique power of social media, but it also creates new expectations during a crisis.

Answer any questions possible that are posted on social media, apologizing (succinctly, sincerely, and calmly) to users who express frustration or anger with your firm.

You may decide to ignore the crisis beyond a brief summary acknowledgement, but active participation is a sign of good-faith engagement.

5) Reflect on What Just Happened

When the crisis has passed, it’s important to learn any lessons you can from what happened.

That doesn’t mean recrimination and finger-pointing – it means cool-headed assessment of where things went wrong and what you might have done differently.

This kind of analysis will help you prevent future crises more effectively. Moreover, evaluating your crisis response experience will help you understand what worked and what might need to be done differently.

No one wants the headache of a social media blowup, but with the right approach you can use the experience to make your professional services firm smarter and more effective as it takes its message to the world.

Sylvia Montgomery

Sylvia Montgomery, CPSM is a senior partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm for professional services. At Hinge, Sylvia provides strategic counsel to national clients. She is a co-author of Inside the Buyer’s Brain and Online Marketing for Professional Services.

View all posts by Sylvia Montgomery