Surviving a Social Media Disaster
A SOCIAL MEDIA CALAMITY has much in common with any other reputational disaster a company may encounter. First, take a page from what I call the “PR 101” text book:
1) Say you’re sorry. 2) Tell what happened (facts, not excuses). 3) Tell people how you’ll fix the problem. 4) Fix it.
That’s a simplified approach, but it’s a solid framework. Whether or not you’re at fault, you must protect the health of your brand.
HERE ARE 8 THINGS to think about if you find yourself embroiled in a crisis.
Assess the severity. How severe is the matter? Does it require Urgent Care or the ER? Respond with the proper measure of attention, contrition— and if necessary—restitution. Never minimize the seriousness of the problem, but don’t go overboard by falling on your sword if it’s not warranted.
Triage. Respond first in the medium where the incident happened. If it happened on Facebook, that’s the place to start. Then address it on your website, and move to other media as appropriate. Always direct people to a place where they can get facts that are updated as changes occur.
Act quickly. Be swift, but not hasty. A measured response is better than the flimsy Band-Aid that’s easily ripped off, exposing the wound to fresh inspection.
Remain calm. Do not be baited into an online argument: stay calm, factual and forthright. Don’t let emotions rule. Always take the high road.
Establish chain of command. Be sure everyone in your organization knows the chain of command: who may speak to reporters or respond on social media about the situation. Is it OK for customer service people to address this matter, or is it only for senior management?
Keep employees informed.Don’t leave employees guessing or making up their own answers. They may feel embarrassed and upset about the situation, too. Employees probably wonder what to say to family and friends outside the organization. Arm them with talking points and keep them up to date.
Never lie or deny. Will celebrities never learn? The athlete who denies cheating, the elected official who denies the affair: history tells us the truth always comes out. Never, ever try to cover it up or—worse—lie. If you’ve made a mistake, it’s much easier (and a shorter news cycle) to come clean at the beginning than it is to confess once the truth comes out later. That only prolongs the pain and the damage to your reputation.
Get help.The situation may be too much to handle on your own or may have legal ramifications. If in doubt, contact your legal counsel and your PR/marketing consultant. Having frank discussions with them is smart insurance. If they are your trusted advisors, you can rest assured they’ll only stay involved if it’s absolutely necessary.
Martha Bartlett Piland leads MB Piland Advertising + Marketing. The firm helps organizations who improve the health and well-being of people and communities be more effective through strategic planning, marketing and internal-external brand alignment.