Social media during a crisis: curse or blessing?

Social media during a crisis: curse or blessing?

Door Salony Saxena
One of the biggest advantages of social media is engaging with your customers directly, bringing across your brand values in an authentic, human and sometimes humorous way. But what happens when the conversation turns sour? What do you do when a PR crisis catches you off-guard? Using social media for marketing purposes is one thing, but these same platforms invite more heat on a brand during a crisis. So how do you deal with that?

Keep calm and carry on
Before diving into the details, let’s talk about the term ‘crisis’. It implies a certain sense of drama, right? For anyone working in marketing and communication, a crisis situation definitely entails some drama, especially since the arrival of social media has changed the constitution of the word ‘crisis’. One single, well-written remark or complaint can change the entire discussion on social media and it can even become an online sensation.

Of course, as a brand, it’s almost inevitable to avoid negative feedback at one point or another. If you’re going to treat every negative remark on social media as a crisis situation, well… let’s just say the job of social media manager is going to be a very stressful one. It’s important to know how to identify a social media crisis and only then can you determine what the best steps are to handle it.

Speech is silver… Listening is golden
Getting to the point: when do you keep calm and carry on and when exactly do you get to panic and freak out? (We never recommend the latter, but hey, we’re all human.) To determine what a social media crisis is, you need to have a good view of what your non-crisis-like state is. The best way to identify what your ‘normal’ is and what your ‘crisis’ entails? Social listening. Knowing in which direction the conversation leans at all times and which voices have an influence on the conversation is crucial. Being aware of this allows you to detect an emerging crisis before it’s in full swing. One negative comment about a broken product or a personal dislike of the brand is not defining, but a newsworthy story on either product or brand level might be.

When it goes south
So what happens when the crisis breaks out? When you were able to detect it, but not stop it – or worse: when it comes out of nowhere? Do you feel the impending sense of drama already? There’s no need for that.

It may seem like social media has made crisis management more difficult compared to traditional media. The way social media platforms are built means that negative situations can spread like wildfires and the expected response rate has gone from hours to minutes. It’s no longer sufficient to put out a carefully written press release, drafted by PR specialists, legal advisors, the board of directors, etc.

Nowadays, people want to hear a human voice, speaking their own language and, preferably, as fast as possible. With that, we’re also pinpointing the main advantage to social media in case of crisis: you are in charge of the conversation, you determine how your brand handles a negative situation and you get to enlighten people with the truth. There’s no more ambiguity surrounding a press release and you no longer have to wait how journalists will interpret it. You are in control.

Putting out the fire
Being in control is one thing. Actually using that control to your advantage is another. Writing a witty comment won’t cut it in times of crisis. So how do put out the fire, instead of (accidentally) adding gasoline to it?

What will be most valuable is an enhancement of your social media response strategy. Coordinating with different departments which message to put out on which channels is key. Knowing how to adapt your tone of voice to the crisis is the next step. Shifting the conversation from a negative focus to a positive one requires subtlety, flexibility and a deep understanding of the situation as a whole. Besides that, it’s important to recognize a crisis doesn’t stop at 5 pm, even if the working day does. It might be obvious, but keep in mind that having the capacity to monitor and respond is essential.

One of the best examples of the above – not only in the Netherlands, but worldwide? KLM responding to the Icelandic ash cloud crisis in 2010. This was not only a great demonstration of social media crisis management, but also a pivotal moment for the social media strategy of the brand!

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thought of tackling a PR crisis via social media, we’d recommend having a good partner by your brand’s side – one specialized in community management and strategic social communication. What a coincidence, because we at Dorst & Lesser pride ourselves on exactly that. Give us a call when you’re in need – or better yet, before you’re in need, as preparation is key in moments of crisis… 😉

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