When you find yourself in the eye of a social media storm it's a pretty scary place to be.
Suddenly your client's platforms are going into meltdown and it feels as though there's nothing you can do about it.
But actually, there is. And it starts long before anything blows up.
Because, when you're prepared and have a social media crisis management plan in place, you'll be able to react calmly and professionally should the worst happen.
Read our seven-step guide to find out how.
Step #1 Understand what a social media crisis means for you
A social media crisis is an online incident that can damage a business's reputation and affect its bottom line.
But not all social media crises are equal. What's damaging to a small business will be water off a duck's back to a multinational.
A crisis could be anything from a flood of negative comments, fake news that takes hold, or a full-on business boycott.
So, the first step is to define what a crisis means for your client.
As part of your onboarding process, you should look to understand what a typical level of negativity might be.
It can be awkward to have this discussion straight off the bat but it will show you're serious about your role and that you're treating their brand with care.
It might be that your client is used to taking the odd swipe on social – or they might freak out at one lousy comment.
Knowing this means you'll be able to quickly determine what's expected or when things are going off the rails.
Step #2: Be prepared
Often a social media crisis will happen unexpectedly, seemingly out of nowhere. Other times it will build slowly as word spreads and complaints gather pace.
Either way, when you have an escalation process in place you'll be able to spot the early signs of trouble and do your best to nip things in the bud quickly.
- Use listening tools to keep track of online mentions
- Monitor comments on ads – these are likely to reach a wider audience and can attract higher levels of negativity
- Keep a list of common complaints – and your answers to them
- Be clear who your point of contact is when dealing with a crisis, and make sure they have the authority to deal with it
- Have a discussion with your client to agree on which types of problems you'll deal with and which will be sent to them
- Make sure you have the out-of-hours contact details for all relevant team members
Include some or all of this information in your Brand Voice Guideline so that everyone involved knows what to do.
Step #3: Stay calm
As a freelance social media manager, you're likely to be the first person to pick up on a looming crisis.
When you sense something's going wrong, stay calm.
If you have steps one and two in place, there will be no need to panic. Take a deep breath, dig out your plan and put it into action.
Step #4: Acknowledge the situation
You should publicly acknowledge the problem as quickly as possible.
You don't need to make any rash announcements at this stage, but it's good to let people know you're aware of what's happening and are dealing with it.
Keep your comments neutral and avoid getting drawn into tit-for-tat responses. This can be hard if you feel your client is being treated unfairly, but it won't help.
If your client is gunning to get involved – remember they'll take the criticism more personally than you – assure them that you'll handle things.
Respond publicly, then take the issue offline to resolve it if you can.
Step #5: When to remove posts
If a situation explodes in the comments of one of your client's social posts, it can be tempting to hit the delete button.
If you're dealing with a troll then go ahead and remove the problem replies. But, if they're from a genuinely aggrieved customer, think twice.
Deleting can look like you have something to hide or that you're not taking the problem seriously.
It's best to acknowledge you're aware of the situation and try to deal with it offline as soon as possible.
Step #6: Handling a national and global crisis
It's amazing how quickly a business can get caught up in a social media crisis through no fault of its own.
For example, one of your client's employees might behave badly on or offline, landing the company in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Or a business might find itself on the receiving end of a backlash if it fails to read the mood of the nation during a national or global event.
To combat this, you must stay on top of the news and pause any pre-scheduled content that no longer hits the right note.
Step #7: Reflect and learn
Once the dust has settled – and it will eventually settle – take time to reflect on what's happened and what you can learn from it.
- Did you have a system in place to deal with the social media crisis?
- Did the system work?
- Were the right people involved?
- What could you have done differently?
- What changes can you put in place to ensure a smoother ride in the future?
Arrange a meeting with your client to discuss your thoughts and findings.
It's easy to think you'll never have to deal with a full-blown social media crisis, and we really hope you don't.
But by planning ahead and putting a process in place, you'll be able to reduce the potential impact on your client's business as well as keeping your own stress levels in check.
➾ Grab your copy of the Brand Voice Guideline template here