Community Management

How a Crisis Management Plan Can Save Your Brand

In 2020, most brands are used to the rapid distribution of social media and digital news as well as the concept of virality. They understand that putting the wrong

In 2020, most brands are used to the rapid distribution of social media and digital news as well as the concept of virality. They understand that putting the wrong content out at the wrong time can mean a “twitterstorm” of bad PR for their brand, resulting in significant consequences. That said, not all brands have an adequate crisis management plan in place to address these issues. This post aims to inform social media managers on how they can build and enact a crisis management plan, along with examples of how a crisis can affect brands.

What is a Crisis Management Plan?

Crisis management is the creation and implementation of a plan which identifies, responds to, and resolves problems and crises for a brand. Most often, these occur primarily on digital and social platforms, which –when used effectively– can be a part of brand information distribution and problem-solving. This is because “social media, within which the official news media very comfortably sits and operates — many as re-launched web-based multimedia platforms — has disrupted the nature of information spread,” (Atherton, 2019).

So what are the building blocks to a crisis management plan? Social media crises can be managed by dividing the response into four key stages: Identification of crises or issues, evaluation of the crises, escalation of the issues to the correct teams, and response, (WARC, 2020). These four key steps are vital to ensure no major harm is done to your digital brand. Because of the propagation of social media, media news, and digital information sharing, content that is good or bad for your brand can be spread at high speed across the digital landscape.

And once the information is out there, it’s not going away. “Therefore, apart from developing, promoting, and selling your products or services, you also need to have an explicit strategic intention to protect your reputation, and this means that viewing your organization from a much higher (and usually external) vantage point than any one sector or market niche you may occupy,” (Atherton, 2019). This speaks to the first step, identification– but what about the rest? An example of a well developed social media crisis management plan may look like the following (Baer & Teague, 2020):

  1. Pause All Outbound Messages: Stop any potential worsening of the issue by pausing all out-bound communications.
  2. Acknowledge An Issue: Let your audience know you’re aware of an issue, and work forward from there.
  3. Create a Crisis FAQ Page: Develop a hub for all public-facing information, and refer to this page as updates develop.
  4. Start Responding in Social Media: Develop a plan for keeping messaging concise and consistent.
  5. Use Visual Signals that Inform: Visuals are a good way of making complicated information clear.
  6. Keep Your Audience on a Platform that You Control: By keeping the conversation on your turf, and can help drive the direction of the conversation.
  7. Remember the Response Rule of Two: Don’t give more than two public-facing answers to any complaint. After that, move the conversation private.
  8. Arm Your Army: Train every stakeholder and customer service agent on the plan.
  9. Learn Your Lessons: Analyze what worked well and what didn’t for future issues.

Who Responds in a Crisis Management Plan?

A key part of keeping your crisis management plan effective is creating a plan for who responds to certain issues. Ensuring the right people respond from your brand helps to minimize any brand reputation damage. After all, studies show that 80% of customers will use social media to engage with a brand, making this channel worth attention from even your highest stakeholders.

“Social media allows you to speak directly with customers using direct messaging or commenting. If one customer has an issue, your customer service team can respond to them instantly through a private or public message. If the customer posts publicly on your timeline, an effective response from your customer service team can serve as a positive example of your team’s credibility. Standard responses using just the customer service rep and manager are at the lower end of the scale. As the crisis intensifies, additional measures are taken to ensure an appropriate response is delivered,” (Fontanella, 2020).

For an illustrated look at who should be your core response team in any given crisis, look to the graph pictured below:

How Not to Handle a Crisis on Social Media

Everyday brands find themselves at the wrong end of a social media conversation. The majority of these can be avoided with tact and the right social media management plan.

“Being edgy is good and being risqué can often provoke a viral response. That being said, there is a line that separates risqué posts from classless posts. In their zealousness to grab attention and stand out from a crowded pack, social media marketers often cross that line to disastrous effect,” (Penguin Strategies, 2015).

A prime example of this happens every year, centered around the anniversary and honoring of 9/11. This is a popular posting occasion for many brands across a multitude of channels. “Twitter was a common channel for posting messages affirming American ideals. Organizations including the National Men’s Soccer team posted videos, and organizations such as NASA showed photos demonstrating institutional tributes to the losses suffered that day,” (Kitterman, 2018). But not all brands understand how to join the conversation the right way.

Recently, the Brand Ledo Pizza capitalized on the memorial by tweeting a photo of their pizza, shaped like the American flag. While the post was likely created with good intentions, it was perceived as a tactless try for self-promotion. “Realizing how tasteless this was, Ledo Pizza deleted the tweet and replaced the pizza flag with a real one, but by that point, it was too late. Users had taken screenshots of the original tweet and were quick to remind the pizza chain of its blunder,” (Totsky, 2019).

So should all pizza chains keep out of the conversation altogether and refrain from posting on sensitive issues that don’t involve them? Not necessarily. A similar brand posted a near-identical message to honor 9/11, but with a different central image, shown below– and they received a wholly positive response. So the key message here is that crisis management is as much about proactive critical thinking around posting as it is the response to crises and issues. All of which requires planning.

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