Crises Management – Keeping cool when your social channels go into meltdown
On Tuesday night I attended the PRCA’s “Social Crisis Simulation” event, in partnership with Polpeo – The software that mimics a PR crisis breaking across multiple social networks in real time.
It’s designed to highlight the speed and scale at which a brand’s reputation can be damaged if not managed appropriately and it certainly delivers on the fear factor that so many clients experience when their brand’s come under consumer fire online.
Recent research suggests that 94% of all PR crises either start or spread on Twitter, so it’s no surprise that brand Twitter handles often provide the first indication of an incoming PR tsunami, and have in more recent times been the first channel on which a corporate response is published. In 2014 for example, Malaysia Airlines decided to use Twitter to make its first public statement on Flight MH17, reportedly shot down over Eastern Ukraine killing all 295 people on board.
Thankfully yesterday’s crisis was entirely simulated, albeit realistic, using pretend social channels, brands and business stakeholders in the roleplay. Fictitious though it may be, powerful lessons are learned and invaluable experience gained, to protect and defend brands in the real world.
Lesson One: Define clear team roles and responsibilities
By their nature, a crisis will generally involve large stakeholder groups – from marketing to legal, product development to internal communications.
It’s absolutely vital that crisis teams have clearly defined responsibilities and with them the authority to make key decisions and activate plans at speed.
Lesson Two: Leverage influencers to support and validate positive messaging
Bloggers, Vloggers and social talent who advocate and support a brand can play a significant role in protecting a brand’s reputation when a crisis flares. They can both validate and add a layer of authenticity to corporate statements if they consider themselves a genuine partner of the brand. Consider these relationships as long term investments for the business and nurture them as an extension of your brand’s marketing function.
Lesson Three: Take an audience first approach to channel strategy
Twitter has long been heralded as the battle ground for brands facing consumer or corporate backlash, and unfortunately of all the big players it’s the natural home to trolls and provocation.
With this in mind, channel strategies should be considered with the community front of mind; which of your client’s social communities will be most receptive to your press statement? Where are you going to get the most public support or stir up the most trouble? Just remember – don’t feed the trolls. It’s not always necessary to be vocal during a crisis on every single channel, nor to respond to every individual comment. However it is key to define early in your planning when and where silence will be your best friend.
Lesson Four: Be proactive and embrace contingency Planning
With speed of the essence, the consideration of all possible outcomes, and a strategic response and statement for each is important. Be proactive and push teams to anticipate the requirements of any given crisis. This approach forces us to think of the ‘worse-case scenario’ which hopefully won’t ever play out, but it ensures you are prepped for all eventualities, whichever way the crisis builds.
Line up stakeholders, statements, key influencer relationships and cross channel messaging, just in case you need to leverage them with immediate effect.
Lesson Five: Include Internal Communications as a key pillar
Don’t forget your employees are a key weapon in your armoury. They represent a highly loyal audience and often have a great influence amongst their own networks. Keep them informed at every key stage of a crisis, and ensure they are clear of their role and responsibilities as an employee. If not, internal stakeholders can become confused, angry and react negatively adding further fuel to the fire.
In our social age, brands are faced with the possibility of ever growing financial and reputational damage as an inevitable result of failing to prepare.
The influence and impact of social communications during the initial groundswell, and in the aftermath of a crisis should not be underestimated, and the feedback training and advice that PR teams, in collaboration with a tool such as Polepo deliver, should in 2016 be considered as a fundamental pillar of a brand’s reputational management strategy.
At Cirkle we are seeing ever growing numbers of our clients requesting retained crisis management support as the repercussions of not having such systems in place become more evident and the reality that no brand is immune to the possibility of a crisis clear to see.
Director of Digital Influence