Guest Author – Natalia Andrew

With over 3.96 billion active social media users worldwide, platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok have become mainstream sources of more than just entertainment.

In fact, a social media report by Our World In Data states that Americans between the ages of 18-29 are more likely to get their important news from social networking sites (SNS) rather than print or online news sites.

However, social media’s reach can become a double-edged sword for businesses leveraging its influence. While crises are almost inevitable for any organization, massive social media audiences can magnify these crises significantly. A crisis management plan can be the difference between whether or not a company can recover from a crisis. So with that in mind, we’ve outlined some of the key considerations in crafting your own social media crisis management plan.

1. Define What Crisis Means

Before anything else, it’s important to determine what constitutes a crisis. In my previous article on business crises, we list five main types that can all play out on social media. This includes personnel, technological, financial, natural, and organizational misdeeds. To further elaborate, the difference between a problem and a crisis is the size of the audience it affects. Your crisis management plan should pre-determine just how much negativity is “acceptable” before it falls into crisis territory. The limit depends on the company and the industry, so assess your own market standing before defining this threshold.

2. Gather Your Crisis Crew

Let’s assume you have a copywriter and a community manager handling day-to-day social media. They may be able to handle complaints and criticisms, but not a crisis. It’s important to be proactive and set which team members will play what role should a crisis occur. Often, a streamlined team is better suited to handle a crisis to keep it from spiraling out of control. However, a more complex organization will also require more specialists. Generally, a three-pronged approach from executives, management, and creatives can provide a well-rounded response with little redundancy and higher efficiency. Having a lawyer present can also help avoid legal infringements, especially when it comes to claims or security breaches. It also helps to assign team members dedicated to social listening. This will provide insight into how effective your approach is, and how you can pivot if needed.

3. Secure Your Accounts

Nowadays, your social media can be the gateway to insider data. Imagine that one compromised email account can connect to sensitive information in just a few clicks. Because employees are more likely to cause social media security crises than hackers, fortifying your safety systems should be an absolute priority. Back in 2013, UK-based media retailer HMV had a mass firing publicized by an irate employee on their official Twitter account. While no confidential data was shared, this just shows how easily unprotected social media accounts can be exploited, and quickly turn into a major crisis. In Later’s guide to protecting Instagram accounts from hackers, they advise you to use an auto-generated password, enable two-factor authentication, and revoke all access to 3rd party accounts. Considering that hacking attempts have increased since 2020, Google expects 20% of accounts to be attacked at some point.

4. Create Communication Guidelines

During a crisis, the content you put out there will be scrutinized. Establishing your company tone, voice, and value proposition through your communications actively directs the narrative to be more in your control. On average, companies take 21 hours to release a public crisis response. By creating clear communication guidelines, you will enable response teams to act quickly in a way that doesn’t diminish your company’s personality. Your guide should include specific dos and don’ts for stakeholders, platform-specific rules, and inquiry responses vetted by your legal team. Keep copy clear, helpful, and humble. Take WeWoreWhat’s Danielle Bernstein’s irate and defensive responses to multiple copycat claims as a cautionary tale. Ultimately, the designer received backlash and, under pressure, backed out of a very profitable deal with Macy’s.

5. Design an Escalation Flowchart

Things will move quickly in a crisis and all parts must act quickly all at the same time. With a crisis escalation flowchart, individuals and teams necessary at every level are clearly indicated. For example, a flowchart can begin with a trained community manager before ultimately having an executive public response at the top. The flowchart can also note the basic solutions for every crisis level. This can start with specially crafted direct messages and end with a legal statement to be released on public platforms. Keep your flowchart updated with contact information and CVs of all relevant team players. This assures that at a moment’s notice you are able to reach the most qualified members to implement a certain, critical task. A flowchart can also act as means to measure how severe a crisis has become. Make sure to run the flowchart by legal, executive, and creative managers to get input and approval.

6. Prepare for the Aftermath

The crisis will pass — although how long it will take is the question. Depending on how tumultuous your crisis was, having a bounce-back plan will prevent further losses. Many companies find themselves derailed from a profitable path after a crisis, but what will make matters worse is having the company in limbo after the fact. In a crisis leadership article on Harvard Business Review, experts suggest making an informed judgment about when to shift gears into the reflection and action stage. You can do this by delivering on promises, communicating with internal and external suppliers to show your sincerity, and above all else taking a moment to address company waterloos.

Having a social media crisis in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic seems too difficult to bear. But by proactively creating a plan before anything else, you will be able to counter whatever challenges social media has in store for you.

A blog article for by writer Natalia Andrew