Social media is just a channel. There, I said it. Nothing more, nothing less – just a channel. Despite what some digital gurus and evangelists will tell you, social is fairly easy to master if you keep a close eye on the fundamentals.
Take crisis or issues management situation, as an example. The overall approach you need and the skills required in social media are identical to those you would take with traditional media or stakeholder communication. You may add a few tools here and a few techniques there, but the fundamentals are called fundamentals for a reason – they don’t fundamentally change.
Here are 10 top tips to keeping a social crisis under wraps:
1. Communicate all the time – build up your online brand equity, so that when a crisis occurs, people will be more likely to think the best of you, rather than the worst. Build a positive brand halo around your brand across all your activated social networks. Your community will help you when you most need them.
2. Research your audience – identify anybody and everybody that influences your brand: customers, prospects, media, trade associations, legislators etc. Understand what conversations are taking place – who and what are they talking about? Which of these players carries the most influence? Which channels are most actively used?
3. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer – follow, friend and join them in their social networks. Monitor what they say, how they interact and whether they’re likely to respond positively, negatively or indifferently. This will dictate how much resource you throw at involving or pacifying them in a crisis.
4. Team up – get all the major internal stakeholders involved in your crisis planning, rehearsal situations and responses. We’re talking about your board members, legal people, press office and customer service operators. Train them all in social media practice and etiquette – they will each bring something valuable to the party and it’s almost always best to communicate via a named expert rather than a faceless corporate social account.
5. Chill out – give your crisis team, including those manning your social networks, a rest when they most need it. Divide into two teams with equal skill, responsibility and authority. When a crisis occurs they can work shift patterns around the clock. Remember, sleep deprivation and stress are two of the major causes of miscommunication.
6. Cool tools – use the latest tracking, monitoring and publishing tools to ensure you can respond with speed to the right things at the right time. Consider how often do you are likely to encounter a crisis and how many staff need access to your tools. This will dictate whether you need subscription-only apps, or can make-do with freely available platforms. Browser-based tools are preferable for crisis work as they can be accessed 24/7 from any device.
7. Less is more – communicate only the basic facts as and when they need to be made public. Check and double check your statements for accuracy and misinterpretation. Offset negative responses with positives, explain the counter arguments and correct inaccuracies immediately. Twitter can be a great discipline in brevity, but don’t allow the 140 character limit to corrupt your message. Instead, refer traffic to official channels, such as websites, where the content can reside in full until it’s ready to be taken down.
8. Take complaints offline – don’t expose your entire social community to a crisis or complaints resolution process. Deal with people one to one, until the issue has been resolved. Then make the resolution public, so that everyone knows the situation has been satisfactorily dealt with.
9. Don’t allow a situation to fester – a slow or non-response is tantamount to accepting guilt. Quickly make clear you are dealing with the situation, investigating and will report back once the facts have been established. Social media is a fast-moving medium, so take every opportunity to buy yourself time to think and act appropriately.
10. Be personable – don’t be overly familiar, particularly in the early stages of communication, but don’t be afraid of referring to individuals by their first name in a social post. The informality of channel can be a useful ally in a crisis – helping to break down barriers, alleviate some of the negativity and ultimately in converting the ‘haters’.