When you first spot an emerging situation on social – for example, a significant increase in mention volume or rapidly deteriorating sentiment over a particular topic or issue – the first step would be to gather more information.
Here are some questions an organization might want to ask at this stage:
- How significant is the increase in mention volume from your average or norm?
- How is the volume changing over time?
- Is the sentiment positive or negative?
- Are negative mentions restricted to one channel, or did they start on a single channel and now spreading to multiple online platforms?
- When did the crisis happen?
- Why is this conversation happening?
- Who are the key stakeholders driving the conversation?
- Who is the source of this social activity (eg disgruntled customers, bots, reposts, syndicated articles, or automated content sharing)?
- Assess the accuracy of information. Who can verify the accuracy of the mentions, news, and images shared on social?
- What’s the potential impact of the issue on your customers and other external stakeholders?
- What time frame is reasonable to formulate and dispatch a response?
Then, Justin suggests creating a keyword list, “so everything relevant to the issue is in one place.”
When your organization has access to a digital consumer intelligence tool like Brandwatch Consumer Research, your crisis management team can start building search queries, using the list of previously defined keywords. This process requires an ongoing iteration, and Justin added, “You’re never going to get it right the first time and it will always be a process of constant refinement!” However, by using the answers to the above questions, you’ll be able to get a good idea of how the conversation is progressing and quickly start to pick up on additional phrases or keywords that need to be added to your query.
b. Get organized internally
Here are the questions that need answering next:
- Who needs to be involved?
- Does your business have a dedicated crisis management team or team member?
- Does your business have a tried-and-tested crisis management protocol?
- Does your brand have a social media policy and guidelines; what about a brand voice (in which to respond to a crisis)?
- Does your business have ready-to-use response templates that address and cover your current issue?
- Assess the potential impact of the issue on the business and its staff.
You’ll notice that the above questions rely on a number of different plans and stakeholder lists to be in place for when things go wrong. Preparation is key, and we definitely recommend doing some crisis scenario planning.
c. Understand the context in real time
Once the query is in place, it’s time to create dashboards to better understand the context behind the conversation that’s unfolding.
“Sometimes I’m looking for very specific information that acts as a signal that we need to take action,” Justin says. “Other times, there isn’t anything specific and I want to monitor the issue in very broad terms.”
Brandwatch Consumer Research offers a variety of dashboards that can help segment your data, uncovering what needs to be investigated further – for example, which channel or sub-topic to focus on.
Here are some common areas and things a crisis management team can look for:
- How is the volume changing over time?
- Has the volume changed dramatically? Are there spikes?
- If there are spikes, what has caused them?
- Who is talking about the issue as time progresses?
- Is it media, influencers, celebrities, or individuals?
- Is the organization being mentioned directly or indirectly?
- Is the information in mentions true, based on facts, or are people making assumptions and/or spreading lies about the issue and our organization?
At this point, having key stakeholders gather (in person or virtually) around your digital command center can help with decision making. If everyone’s got the same view of the situation and its severity, and if a clear plan is in place, then responding to the crisis will be far less stressful.
d. Identify key messages
Pre-planning only gets you so far but gives you a real head start and saves valuable time, so now it’s time to take those prepped response documents out and decide what key messages need to be added in, taken out, and refined your response. Keep it simple – have no more than three main messages and communicate them clearly.
While this is being done, your social media accounts can be useful channels. Any communication must be handled carefully, but acknowledging that you’re looking into an issue can help quell demands for immediate action.
We’ve all experienced frustration at a company going silent amidst a scandal. And it’s every brand manager’s worst nightmare when a negative comment from a customer has gone viral.
Sometimes, just being acknowledged and knowing someone is doing something is enough to quiet fears and can stop repeat mentions (as long as that action sounds sensible and proportionate to the seriousness of the problem). Abby Mangold adds, “For example, consumers are complaining that your company’s orange juice tastes weird and is making them feel unwell. While you investigate you may want to post to your social media accounts to show you are listening and hearing what people are saying, ‘We know some of you have been talking about our OJ product and we’re really sorry to hear if you’ve been feeling unwell. We are looking into this right now and will be back in touch very soon with more information.’”
e. Inform internally
Run internal briefings to all relevant teams, providing a detailed explanation of the situation and advising members of staff on how they should respond if contacted by press. Effective internal communication is as important as opening up to the public with an official statement. Keeping key people briefed internally also speeds up their involvement should it be needed.
Leveraging a command center for these instances can allow you to both receive external feedback in real time and to share crucial communications across your organization immediately, ensuring you will be the single source of truth for your team.
f. Communicate early and often (in your brand voice)
You have the information you need, you know your key messages. Now it’s time to start talking publicly.
Start the conversation by introducing the problem, the current status, and the proposed solution. It can be useful to commit to regular updates – this sets deadlines for your team and provides comfort for your audience. But, of course, be realistic.
Remember to always gut-check your communications against your company voice. Just because a crisis is at hand doesn’t mean you have to sanitize the personality of your brand. Communications in times of crisis that are overly formal, corporate, or robotic sounding, can come across as insincere, especially if your brand voice is more informal during peacetime. Keep the information at the front but don’t turn into someone you’re not, don’t forget to talk human!
Questions to ask when responding to a crisis
- What does my audience (internal and external) need to know?
- What information can we disclose and what needs to be held back?
- What format does this information need to be presented in? Ie what are the restrictions of the channel(s) where you plan to communicate
- In complex situations, how can we simplify our message to ensure it’s accessible and memorable?
- When can we expect to update the audience (internal and external) on next steps?
- If relevant, how can people contact us, and where should we direct people for more information?