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How To Use Social Media During A Crisis

6 minute read - Posted by Daniel Wagstaff on Oct 12, 2020 6:07:00 AM

Ten years ago, social media platforms had a very different role, but today social media is used by all demographics and by people of all ages. In 2017, studies showed that 81 percent of the population had at least one social networking profile and those numbers continue to grow. The Pew Research Center showed:

  • 68% of all women use social media, compared with 62 percent of all men
  • 35% of all those 65 years old and older report using social media
  • 56% of citizens living in the lowest income households now use social media
  • 58% of rural residents, 68 percent of suburban residents, and 64 percent of urban residents all use social media

This article will talk about how to incorporate social media into your crisis communication plan, ways to familiarize yourself with key social platforms, and utilizing tools and technology such as a mass notification system to expedite multi-channel communications in order to be prepared whenever disaster strikes.

An increasing number of Americans are getting their news from social media, as opposed to TV, radio and newspapers. In fact, news is often reported by followers/social media users (as opposed to professional journalists). They also use social media to voice their opinion and build the narrative.

Social media plays an increasingly pivotal role during tragedies, natural disasters, and notable deaths. As a result, using social media to communicate and narrate your crisis would not be considered unusual.

The benefits of using social media during your crisis:

  • Direct, real-time communication with your audience, allowing you to give unlimited updates.
  • Vital information communicated to the people who may need it most.
  • A chance for your audience to speak with you in the midst of the crisis.
  • An opportunity to keep control of your crisis and reduce or eliminate the chaos, confusion and misinformation it could bring.

Ways to Make The Most of Your Social Media During a Crisis:

  • Create a social media crisis policy in advance.

Plan an official response process and share it with your staff. Include all the crucial information you may need to convey in the event of a crisis, such as emergency phone numbers/contacts and website links. Be sure to nail down an approval process for any responses that may be posted, so that you and your staff are on the same page and inappropriate content isn’t posted due to confusion.

When establishing a policy, ask yourself:

  • What information should be shared and/or made public and what information should be kept confidential?
  • How should you interact with customers online?
  • Is your content in line with your brand and your company’s voice?

Most importantly, define what constitutes a crisis. Most of them are self-explanatory (dangerous weather, mass shootings, accidents, hacking), but others -- like, for instance, one disgruntled customer complaining about you online -- may not be considered an official crisis.

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  • Limit access to your social media accounts.

Don’t risk a security breach. Don’t share passwords with too many people in your organization. Use a centralized communication system to control who gets to speak to the public. If a user leaves your company, be sure to remove access immediately, to avoid the possibility of “revenge” posts.

  • Write your posts in advance.

You may not be able to predict what may go wrong in the near future, but it will help you to make a list of all the ways you may experience a crisis. These scenarios could include severe weather emergencies to a website hacking. Write a short post for each scenario, explaining what happened and that you are on the case and will be providing updates as they happen. Of course, you can tailor and finesse the posts to fit the moment, but most of the writing work will already be completed.

  • Be human.

People will be more forgiving if you admit any mistakes and apologize for them. If you are truly genuine in your determination to make things right, it may go a long way toward forgiveness from your followers.

  • Define the crisis and the location it will most likely affect.

Will it most likely be a local crisis, or more likely to be national or even global? How will it affect your operations, your staff and your customers?

  • Establish your social media crisis team and a clear chain of command.

Don’t go it alone. Include your staff in order to team up on your crisis resolution goal. Choose people you trust, of course, but also those who are “can do” and can get things done. Make sure everybody knows the role they need to play in the midst of a crisis:

  • Posting further updates on social media (after approvals)
  • Internal vs. external communications (what should stay private and confidential?)
  • Answering questions from the public.
  • Working with other teams, possibly in other companies, vendors or relevant associates.
  • Taking control of customer service and support.
  • Keeping an eye and ear out for the social media response to the crisis.
  • Fact-checking, and avoiding “fake news.”
  • Keep your employees and staff informed and involved.

If your employees and staff are in the dark during a crisis, it’s only going to increase uncertainty, confusion and misinformation, which may escape onto social media channels. Allow employees to use social media to express themselves, even if their posts are allowed to be unedited. It can show that you are willing to allow all viewpoints and arguments during a crisis.

  • Stop all scheduled posts.

If you’re experiencing a social media crisis, forgetting to stop a lighthearted or humorous post could make you look bad. If a crisis is happening in real time -- especially if it’s life threatening -- you don’t want a breezy, light post to be running at the same time. It’s tone deaf.

  • Avoid fake news.

Misinformation (often deliberately posted in order to cause confusion) is a growing concern on social media. It’s not only wrong, but it can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Be sure to fact check all of your information (have those in authority at your organization -- especially legal staff -- sign off on content before it’s posted). Quote only established, trusted sources, like news organizations and government agencies.

  • Answer questions.

Show your customers, clients and followers that you are all in when it comes to answering questions and addressing concerns. Include questions and clear, accurate answers on your social media posts -- most of the questions being asked or most likely being asked by those who don’t post but can benefit from your answers. Try to answer questions quickly -- don’t let anyone wait for an answer, especially if they have gone to the trouble of posting a question. Your audience may not remember all of your answers, but they will most likely remember your quick and honest responses.

  • Stay online.

Don’t go silent or dark for the duration of the crisis (and afterward). Even if you don’t have ready answers or solutions, tell your audience that you are on the case and in the process of getting answers. Add that you will keep them updated as information becomes available. This will give your audience peace of mind and show that you are not abandoning your followers in a time of crisis.

  • Review your crisis experience after the fact.

After the crisis blows over, take the time to review how you and your organization responded to it on social media. Encourage your staff to share opinions and even critiques of the process. Is there anything in your social media policy that may need to be changed, updated or reconsidered?

  • Invest in a communications system that allows you to keep all of your social media profiles in one place.

Selecting an emergency notification system that allows you to send one message to all of your social media pages with one click will save you time and increase your communication reach faster. You can monitor what followers are saying and how they are responding to the crisis, and will help limit access to users so that the wrong information is not shared.

Bottom line

Facing a sudden crisis can be frightening and anxiety-inducing, but if you prepare for the worst ahead of time, you may be able to reduce or avoid confusion and misinformation that spreads through social media. You can take proactive steps to use your social media strategically and to your benefit. It can make a huge difference in the heat of the moment as to how your business is perceived, and in some cases it can even help to save lives.

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