Many larger, more traditional companies who are used to engaging with consumers under the old media model have stated that they feel like social media has made them lose control, especially when they have to deal with a crisis and are shocked to find how quickly information gets around online. While it is true that today’s world has made it more difficult to keep a lid on things once they are put out there, in many ways companies can have even more control than in the past. Properly utilized, social media can be a wide-reaching and yet still very flexible and personal tool.
The first thing to realize and accept is that social media is going to beat you to the punch – people will learn about the crisis from outside sources before you can put out an official notification. This does not, however, mean that you should just curl up and let things happen. Being proactive and keeping up ongoing communication is more important now than ever – and if it’s done well, it can really help your company’s image.
Don’t wait. In a crisis, you might be tempted to try to craft the perfect message, but it’s more important to get something – anything – out there. Most competent PR professionals should be able to put something out there in a matter of hours, at the longest, and you need this to happen so that you can curb speculation and misinformation.
Apologize. Saying that you’re sorry this has happened or apologizing that your customers have to deal with it is a great way to empathize while still refraining from outright admitting guilt.
The medium is the message. If people are running wild with crazy tweets about the crisis, releasing a message on your Facebook page isn’t going to do squat. It may be a bit of extra work, but you’re going to need to respond on every kind of medium, and in this case, Twitter is a separate beast from Facebook even though they are book social media. Fight TV commentators with a TV interview; fight tweets with tweets.
Be honest. Obviously you want to be able to give people answers as soon as possible, but this does not mean that you should make something up just to quell fears. If you don’t have all the facts as quickly as you’d like, tell people that you are still looking into the matter, but be willing to try to answer questions and don’t get defensive. You want to come across like you are putting forth your best efforts.
Flood the media. Your goal should be to have people reading, watching, and talking about what you’re saying, not what other people are saying about you. To this end, you want to put your message out there in as many different places as possible and in as many different ways as possible.
Adjust as necessary. One of the best things about the instantaneous nature of social media is that you know right away how the majority of people are feeling about the messages you’re putting out there. If it doesn’t seem to be going over well, this gives you the opportunity to adjust that message. Just make sure you don’t flat out contradict something you’ve said just to please people.