December 7, 2017 / By Marianne Fulgenzi
Among its many attributes, social media has transformed the way people share and consume information by removing traditional boundaries and creating a sense of alignment between brands and consumers; alternatively, it also has made brands more susceptible to potentially damaging situations. But despite social media’s ability to increase brand vulnerability, it is an important tool in supporting crisis communications and in some cases, actually preventing a crisis from happening.
Every brand across industries faces its own set of risks. Successful crisis management begins with identifying potential threats to your brand, facilities, products, and consumers to ensure your organization is well-positioned to manage a crisis.
There are four phases to every crisis – otherwise known as the “Four R’s,” and social media plays a key role in each phase:
• Readiness – The best time to prepare for a crisis is actually long before it starts. Brands should make an assessment of significant risks and potential threats that are most likely to occur and cause harm to people, products, brand reputation, and facilities. Social listening can help identify potential crisis situations by revealing negative sentiments about a brand or its products that could eventually escalate into a full-blown crisis.
Consumers are more inclined to communicate their dissatisfaction with a brand through social media. Social listening is one of the most effective ways to detect a crisis in its earliest stages when it can be alleviated before escalating into a crisis situation.
• Response – A crisis requires an immediate response. Usually, it is standard procedure for an organization to collect all the facts before launching into communications, but this luxury does not exist at the onset of a crisis. Responding promptly is necessary, which means acknowledging the situation at hand, its immediate impact, and committing to a full investigation. Social media is an effective and time-efficient channel for communicating during a crisis, particularly if the crisis began on social media.
Because social media has accelerated the rate at which information is consumed and exchanged, this has substantially reduced the window to promptly respond to a crisis situation at its onset. Considering social media’s importance in communicating during a crisis, it’s important that your crisis communications management team has access to all your organization’s social media passwords. Trying to track them down when a crisis hits will waste valuable time in communicating your organization’s response.
• Reassurance – As a brand learns more information about the who, what, where, when, why and how of a crisis, communicating relevant information to key audiences demonstrates that the brand is on top of the situation. Most importantly, transparency lets the public know that you will continue to keep them informed as the crisis plays out and helps reassure them that their needs are being addressed. Using social media to provide periodic updates as additional information is learned helps engender trust between a brand and its audience.
• Recovery – There is both a short-term and long-term component to the recovery phase. While you need to end the crisis as soon as possible, your brand also needs to focus on restoring a sense of normalcy, even if that means a “new normal” is in effect. A brand also needs to restore its long-term reputation (in cases where reputational damage has occurred) to prevent a recurrence of the crisis. Listening to consumer sentiment through social media platforms can provide key learnings on how a brand’s communications efforts during a crisis helped allay fears or mistakes that were made that need to be corrected.
Social media has changed the game for crisis communications management. Depending on how you leverage this critical tool, it can make the difference between effectively weathering a crisis or “mopping up” a brand’s reputation after the damage has been done.