By Nate Warren
You never think it’s going to be your turn. Until it is. A disgruntled former vendor, a troll with a big megaphone, or a journalist gets people buzzing around a story in which your brand is the villain.
If your company’s reputational fire doesn’t start on social media, it’s going to spread the fastest there. And when it does, your social media team becomes your first responders.
How they handle the heat in the early stages is either the beginning of a successful response or a cascading failure.
Are they ready? Are you?
We are. Whether we’re working with a B2B firm whose industry is mired in controversy, a nonprofit that helps people and gets trolled for it on the regular, or a consumer brand with the occasional negative comment, we have systems and procedures in place to protect our clients.
Here are a few reflexive drills that we’re prepared to run on behalf of clients who wake up with a PR crisis that starts in fifth gear, then gets faster.
DO: Have Some Kind of Response Ready
The most critical things that your frontline social media managers can do are:
a) Buy you time while you engage designated leaders and formulate a broader response
b) Not make it worse
That’s why, if we see the social media sharks start to circle, we have templated responses that we tweak for the situation and put on relevant channels.
Here’s an example:
WideFoc.us tracks an upswell of complaints about pool hours in a client homebuilder’s master-planned community.
WF Community Manager assigned to the client and our Client Strategy Manager convene a quick huddle to assess.
Our Client Strategy Manager reaches out to the client, sharing the situation and providing a recommended response (often pulling from templates created from previous interactions).
After the client approves next steps, the WF Community Manager responds to the comments/posts.
WideFoc.us monitors in real time to channel/de-escalate online tension.
Thank you for letting us know about your negative experience — your feedback matters to us. Will you please send us a private message so we can get more details from you and work toward a solution?
Response Message Adapted from Template
Hi Pam, we hear your frustration with the new pool hours. Please send us a PM with your concerns so we can get more context.
Thank you for sharing your feelings about the new pool hours — we know how important pool time is to our community. We are working with the rec center to address your concerns!
A veteran social media team will be able to quickly read the waters and decide whether you have the beginnings of a serious reputation problem on your hands — or just the passing comments of a single jerk trying to get attention.
This response should be measured in minutes, not days. This is time you’ll need to get the other steps of your response in motion.
DO: Isolate and Defuse
“Can we talk about this one on one?” It can work during a tense moment in the office and on Instagram.
Remember your two audiences for negative comments: the person posting and everybody who is watching.
Cooler heads on your social media team will try to divert a detractor to a private conversation (where their concerns can be addressed), to at least temporarily containing the situation — and maybe squash it altogether!
DON’T: Assume Everything Is in Place and People Know What To Do
In non-emergencies, conversations like these will usually roll up to the right marketing leader, who will use their discretion as to what degree other leadership should be notified and engaged.
Not so on Crisis Day. Things you should think about:
• What do we know about what happened? If they’ve done their job, your social media team has bought you some time to verify facts.
• Who needs to be in the war room? Designated leaders need to assemble quickly and determine a response — at least an official statement that shows you’re aware and taking it seriously, and will follow up with a considered response (and deciding which, if any, journalist inquiries you entertain). You can’t right the ship with too many captains. This should be a short list of people empowered to get a common read on the situation and formulate the official response for the organization.
• What about your internal grapevine? It’s likely the bad news has found its way to several departments (or partners, clients, and vendors). Do they know not to engage with radioactive conversations? Is there an interim statement they should be using and/or point of contact to whom inquiries should be addressed? A message for insiders should run parallel to your public-facing response. (Again, good to have a template on-hand, because this is a terrible time to compose from scratch!)
Should We Just Be Quiet?
Not all crises center on your brand — tragedies around the corner or across the world can make your cheery scheduled post about your new product sound awfully tone deaf. Again, this is where your social media front line can make judgment calls about when business as usual should be interrupted — and when you need to adjust your tack to show awareness and concern for others.
We made this call on behalf of several clients during the Denver/Boulder fires. Several of our clients — and people they care about — lived in this area, so they had bigger things on their mind, as did their current and potential customers. We were able to make sure their cadence and tone reflected care for the situation by pausing lighthearted or promotional posts and sharing resources curated from the local media.
Being sure your social media runs in sync with the rest of your team when under duress is tricky.
It’s also a bad time to learn about your gaps. Want to spot a few and get advice for filling them, even if it’s not WideFoc.us?
Nate Warren is a copywriter and strategist at WideFoc.us.