How not to handle a social media crisis

When things go wrong, burying your head in the sand is the worst thing you can do. Head of PR and Social, Adam Tuckwell, shares essential advice for reacting to a crisis.

We've all seen it happen. Social media is awash with examples of companies or employees doing something they shouldn't and getting caught. But when a storm hits, going quiet or burying your head in the sand causes nothing but further issues.

On the 5th May 2017, Cycling Today, the online cycling publication, posted a news story featuring a video showing an aggressive van driver forcing a cyclist off the road. The driver, probably unaware that his actions would be caught on a dash cam, is seen driving close behind the cyclist and then, when traffic clears on the other carriageway, they are seen drawing alongside the bike and driving it off the road and onto the verge.

Cycling Today shared a tweet linking to the story, while that tweet didn't attract a large audience, it did catch the attention of radio presenter Jeremy Vine. He shared the post with his 600,000+ followers. And with that, the story began to go viral.

No matter how well you select your employees or how comprehensive your guidelines and procedures, things can still go wrong and when they do, companies need to act fast and smart in order to protect their reputation.

With a barrage of messages, the company responded by saying that the employee had been "identified" and that "appropriate action had been taken", but with mounting pressure, the firm opted to delete its Twitter account and go silent in an attempt to ride out the controversy. By closing down the account, it closed off a channel of communication. This never solves the problem, only stops those wishing to vent from having somewhere to direct it.

At Mobas, our PR and Social media team work with businesses to provide support and assistance should a crisis arise. Every situation is different, but here are five basic principles to think about:

  1. Be transparent and authentic in your communications during a crisis.
    Don't try to hide or play down a situation. Be open and truthful about the action you're taking. You won't be able to please everyone all the time, however, when people look back at your social activity around a crisis it is much better for your feed to demonstrate how you were an open and transparent organisation.
     
  2. Keep people updated.
    Crisis situations evolve quickly and, if you are using social media as a key channel to communicate with your audience, you need to communicate regularly, even if only to say that you can't give an update until later.
     
  3. Control access.
    Who manages your feeds? Is it the Marketing Exec or the CEO? During a crisis situation, it is vital that your social accounts are in safe hands. If you have professional MarComms practitioners, they will be best placed to manage the flow of communication. If not, hire a team to help you should the need arise.
     
  4. Craft your messages.
    Don't rush to post, take the time to get the message right and seek a second opinion to ensure your messages are clear and can't be easily misinterpreted.
     
  5. Keep calm.
    Don't enter into tit-for-tat exchanges and don't take criticism to heart. Keeping a cool head and remaining objective is key to successfully handling a crisis.

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