Facebook has had a rough go of it lately with a slew of crises that would make even the most seasoned public relations professional squeamish.

Last month a whistleblower leaked thousands of internal documents to the Wall Street Journal, claiming the company put profits ahead of people.

We now know the whistleblower is a former product manager on the company’s civic misinformation team, so she automatically has credibility on her side.

However, the need for Facebook to have an airtight strategic communications plan in place didn’t stop there. 

Following the leak, the social media and tech giant had to pause its “Instagram Kids” experience for children under the age of 13 after severe backlash from parents, policymakers, and regulators

And then Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp experienced a mass outage affecting billions of people worldwide.

The platforms were down for several hours on Monday, Oct. 4, marking the longest outage for the company since 2008, when Facebook only had 80 million users.

Today, Facebook has around three billion users.

The company apologized for the mass outage, but the damage was done, including shares of Facebook, which closed down almost 5% that afternoon. 

There’s a lot of conversation on what these troubles mean for Facebook, but what does all of this mean for businesses that rely on the social media goliath to interact with customers, communicate with audiences, and transact business? 

With more than eight million active advertisers across all Facebook platforms and 10 BILLION messages sent between people and businesses on Facebook Messenger each month, there were a lot of brands affected by the outage, including Facebook itself, but we’ll get to that soon. 

Communications Needs Strategy Before Execution

Not every brand or company has a strategic communications plan, just like not all of them have crisis communications plans.

In fact, it’s hard to believe that, according to some estimates, nearly 40% of companies don’t have a crisis communications plan

Strategic plans don’t solve every problem, provide the silver bullet for every issue, or deliver some magical remedy to ensure victor.

But they do force practitioners to think beyond tactics and execution and enable them to create a roadmap to success that keeps teams focused on the mission at hand. 

Colleague and friend Gini Dietrich said in a Spin Sucks blog discussing the development of a strategic communications plan, “a good communications plan helps you set expectations early during a campaign. It defines success for the organization, and better protects you from unrealistic—or out-of-scope—demands.” 

A strategic communications plan connects all your tactical efforts into a unified campaign.

It brings all the elements of the PESO Model (paid, earned, shared, and owned) into a cohesive and integrated initiative so each effort supports the next. 

As strategic communicators, we understand that creating and executing a strategic communications campaign is something that takes insight, planning, and even some luck over time.

But for those who are still on the fence, the unprecedented Facebook outage should be a sign to large and small companies alike that they need to think beyond the platform and tactics and focus on strategy. 

Strategic Communications Planning Means Flexibility

As someone who has done a fair amount of crisis communications during my career, I’m a big fan of having a backup plan.

In fact, I’m always looking for a Plan B, Plan C, and beyond if possible.

A strategic communications plan provides that flexibility.

It gives you the ability to adjust to changing conditions and not be reliant on any single effort. 

If you’re a brand spending a significant percentage of advertising dollars on Facebook and Instagram each month, what do you do when the platforms suddenly go down?

What if you had just launched a giveaway or social engagement campaign on these platforms?

How about your ongoing organic social and shared media campaigns?

Without a strategic roadmap, you’re left to scramble to find solutions. 

The truth is a lot of businesses have a Facebook presence, but most of them have multiple social media accounts, and very few rely solely on Facebook or any single social media platform.

Even the social media platforms themselves are active on other platforms. 

The only way Facebook could communicate the mass outage was to Tweet at their 13.4 million Twitter followers.

That’s right, Facebook had to leverage competitor Twitter’s platform to communicate to its audiences. 

Incidentally, that led the official Twitter account to tweet “hello literally everyone” to its 60.1 million followers.

You must appreciate the levity mixed with the realization that your competitor is where “everyone is.” 

Having a strategic communications plan allows you to be flexible and roll with the punches, all while ensuring you’re keeping your focus on the mission at hand. 

Don’t Skip the Strategy 

A strategic communications plan outlines your audiences, communications channels, measures of success (KPIs), mission, vision, objectives, timelines, strategies, and tactics.

It also outlines the potential issues you may face along the way. 

It’s not hyperbole to say that strategy saves communications campaigns.

At a minimum, it can save a lot of headaches and scrambling when crazy things happen, like the world’s largest social media platforms crashing for more than six hours in a day, stranding billions from their minute-by-minute fix of memes, family videos, political discord, and even communicating with brands. 

And not all leaders understand the value of putting strategy before execution, so the next time you get asked why you should put the time and resources into developing a comprehensive and integrated strategic communications campaign, here are 10 things to remember.

A Strategic Communications Plan

  1. Provides a roadmap to success.
  2. Keeps you and your team focused.
  3. Answers the “why” not just the “how” of your campaign. 
  4. Highlights your key points of distinction (why people should care). 
  5. Aligns your people and your efforts. 
  6. Identifies ALL available communications channels.; 
  7. Outlines your measures of success. 
  8. Unites a brand’s mission with its communications. 
  9. Keeps your team accountable.
  10. Provides flexibility during uncertain times or unexpected shifts. 

There are many other benefits, but this should get you started in making your case.

Developing a strategic communications plan is not an easy task, but it’s a necessary one to help ensure the success of your efforts.

If you’re going to go through the trouble of executing, you might as well give yourself the best shot at success. 

And if all else fails, remember that time you needed a backup plan because Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp crashed for six hours while billions tried to figure out what was going on.

Travis Claytor

Travis has led teams that have developed and executed national and international integrated strategic communications plans around some of the world’s top media events, including the NFL Super Bowl and Republican National Convention. He’s also led the international launch of theme park attractions, promoted destinations to global audiences, and developed communications campaigns for organizations like Feld Entertainment, Gaylord Palms Resort, and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Travis has also led crisis and issues management and strategic communications planning for brands like SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Today Travis runs TC Strategic Communications, an integrated communications firm with a passion for strategic solutions that produce real business results.

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