How to Handle a Crisis on Social Media
A checklist of best practices for your organization
Content by Jess Brown
Things are looking a little different all across the country, and that includes us here at Big Communications. On Friday, March 13th, we instituted an indefinite policy for working remotely to help promote social distancing, and we’re now entering our second full week. Our typical Monday morning meetings scattered across the building now consist of dozens of video conferences (with the occasional pet or baby appearance), and coronavirus has us reworking nearly all of our existing strategies
A little over a week ago, our governor officially declared a state of emergency for Alabama due to COVID-19. Within 48 hours, schools were closed, grocery stores were understocked, and officials strongly advised Alabamians to stay home and do their part in mitigating the spread of coronavirus.
Thankfully, our team was already taking measures to address how this would affect our agency operations, and we were ready to begin helping our clients and partners navigate their way through this time of uncertainty. It’s no surprise that our social media team has been particularly affected by the situation, as it’s currently the primary source of communication for most organizations. (Not to mention screen time for consumers has probably quadrupled in the past week).
The past seven days have been non-stop phone calls, Zoom meetings, and strategy sessions to assess, adjust, and plan for what’s to come. We as communication professionals have to do our part in this crisis by keeping our audiences informed, providing customer service through social media, and ensuring our tone and messages are relevant and pertinent.
We’re encouraging our fellow brand managers to consider the following social media crisis management best practices when assessing what your COVID-19 content plan should look like.
- First and foremost, review all scheduled content to ensure nothing is off tone, could come off as insensitive, or isn’t applicable anymore due to event cancellations, store closures, and inventory constraints. Don’t be a victim of technology.
- Reevaluate your messaging pillars. If your brand is a product or service that relies on in-store traffic, this is where it gets tricky. They key is to find how your brand can provide support to consumers during adversity. This is not about sales; this is about being a socially responsible organization. Consider your industry, audience, and geographic. Your brand should be offering things like information on hours, products and services, and community outreach. Depending on your audience, stay-at-home consumer content that entertains users and gives a brief escape from their constant news streams could also be applicable.
- Increase your community management. Regardless of industry or service line, make sure someone in your organization is monitoring comments and directing messages—and responding to users in a timely matter. Be proactive and prepared to manage any questions or potentially negative comments that you feel may arise, and have your marketing, PR, leadership, and legal (if applicable) representatives align on the appropriate responses.
- If your brand is already experiencing heightened negative backlash in social, or things are trending that way, now would be a good time to invest in a community management tool like Sprinklr or Sprout if you haven’t already. This streamlines your social response process and organizes your cases by topic, sentiment, and priority so that you can get to your most critical comments or messages first.
- Practice boundary spanning. Have one foot in your organization and one foot in the rest of the world. Don’t just monitor your own channels. Keep a close watch on any and all conversations happening around your industry and the crisis overall. This not only enables you to predict issues that may impact your business, but also presents opportunities for you to join forces with other brands and partners. Here in Birmingham, we have a booming small business community that has united efforts to bring awareness of the economic impact that this crisis has on them. Our community is rallying behind them and it’s been a beautiful thing to watch. (P.S. click here for a list of restaurants and bars offering curbside pick-up in Alabama.)
- Stay in close communication with your team. It’s times like these that miscommunication is inevitable, especially if your team is completely remote. The folks that are normally across the hall and easy to haul into a conference room are now sitting in their kitchens and living rooms, and it’s very easy to leave a pertinent teammate off an email or web conference. Make a list of your team (or teams, depending on the size of your organization) and have it handy for disseminating information.
- Strongly consider pausing your social ads. In a time of crisis, consumers are focusing on needs vs. wants. Unless your brand is bringing value to your audience needs at this time, it’s probably best to pause and adjust your paid social plan accordingly.
- Make a timeline for re-evaluations of your organic and paid content strategy. Scheduled check-ins will help you stay on track and assess if the strategy you have in place is still adequate.
- Be prepared with new messaging for when the crisis lifts because “business as usual” will not be a reality for a while. Economic conditions will be different. Sales messaging will be out in full force. And yet, consumer sentiment will be in a totally different headspace than where brands will want it to be. Plan on being measured, community-minded, and still helpful to your customers, many of whom will be hurting. Great brands solve problems for their customers, rather than just sell them stuff.