Public Relations: 5 Rules for Social Media During a Crisis

September 18, 2017

We’ve seen it before: a company involved in a crisis is pulled further into the trenches as a result of social media. Whether it’s due to a slow response, the lack of internal controls or an unpopular reply, plenty of companies have suffered financial and brand loyalty losses thanks to social media and its fast pace.


Don’t be that company. Here are a few tips to get keep you prepared. Stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready. 

 

  1. Be a Good Listener – Southwest Airlines is a fitting example of a good corporate listener. In 2014, they launched a social media command center to monitor and respond to what people were saying about the brand on social media. As of January 2016, they had a 31-person team with around-the-clock coverage and a goal response time of 15 minutes. Since not all companies have the resources to run this type of real-time operation, start by listening. Social media is digital “word of mouth” from loyalists and those who are dissatisfied. Make sure you know what is being said and if there’s any validity to the claim.
     

  2. Be on the Same Page – If your company has active social media accounts, company leadership should understand how their words can affect the brand during a crisis, even if they aren’t posted directly to social media. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP CEO Tony Hayward gave multiple interviews and made many remarks which were considered insensitive to many, especially to those who lost a loved one in the tragedy. His remarks were published in news stories and easily spread via social media. Encourage your leadership to stick to the remarks provided by the media or communications team, or leave it up to a company spokesperson so they don’t cause your brand additional headache.
     

  3. Understand the Cultural Divide – Sticking with the BP example, Tony Hayward isn’t from the United States and as a British man, some of his remarks weren’t well-received by Americans due to his perceived lack of empathy. If your company is global, be sure you understand the cultural norms of other office locations and prepare yourself because a crisis can happen anywhere and ultimately your response will cross cultural boundaries. Also understand how your stakeholders communicate in different parts of the world –  via mobile, laptop, apps like Twitter or Facebook, or in apps popular to their region. This is also part of listening.
     

  4. No Power, No Problem – Twitter and Facebook are the places to go for real-time

    updates during a crisis. Last month, my hometown of Houston was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey and even though I was in Atlanta, I found myself glued to Twitter and Facebook for safety updates, images and information about the gauge levels of the river threatening to flood my parent’s neighborhood. The county’s office of emergency management Twitter page was great at communicating river levels, evacuation orders and road closures.

    In the past, hurricane weather updates were learned from TV or if there wasn’t power, a battery-operated radio. Now, power isn’t needed, just a fully charged battery and back up charger to stay updated and if needed, request help. Social media has proven to be life-saving during natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes when conventional channels of communication are immediately disabled.
     

  5. Be Mythbuster Ready – During every flood, the shark swimming (enter location here)

     makes its rounds on social media. While I don’t suggest spending too much time debunking rumors, get ready because misinformation will affect your crisis. Be prepared with canned responses to potential falsehoods supported by facts. Also, if you can’t be the eyes and ears on the ground, be in contact with people from your organization who are so you can understand and disseminate correct information.


Social media is a powerful force during a time of crisis and public relations professionals have to be ready for potential blows to their brand or client as a result. Hopefully these tips will help you as you revisit your crisis communication plans and evaluate your company’s social media response.

 

What social media rules or strategies would you add to the list?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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© 2020 by Danielle Marshall

Atlanta, GA