You look down at your phone and see uncharacteristically high Twitter notifications. You get a message from a colleague, labeled with that terrifying red exclamation point, flagging a tweet or a social media conversation. Social media can be a derecho of crisis – a storm of opinion, criticism and conversations that are fast-moving, complex and devastating. Seasoned professionals working in strategy, public relations and crisis-management tend to be of the opinion that it’s not a matter of “if” a crisis will occur, but rather “when.”
Despite its tendency to be a storm system of fast-moving criticism, social media also can be a powerful tool to mitigate a crisis. But it must be done quickly. A tweet can travel faster than an earthquake ,which can work in your favor during a crisis.
After quickly investigating the mistake or issue in question, use social media as your microphone. Social media is a powerful tool to speak frankly and directly with consumers, news media, stakeholders, employees and spectators. Get in there, fast.
Here are few things to guide you:
- Accountability. Did you make a mistake? Don’t avoid it. Own it. People, brands, businesses, make mistakes. Your audience understands that mistakes are made, but they don’t have patience for excuses or lack or accountability.
- Tone Check. This is particularly important if your crisis stems from an action that was tone deaf to start. In that case, you may need to quickly assemble a sounding board of external counselors who can impartially evaluate the sincerity of your response.
- Use All Channels. Design your response for all social media channels. A 140-character tweet won’t fly on Facebook. Include your apology and solution to the problem on your web page, blog or anywhere else you have a social media presence.
- Apologize. If you made a mistake, apologize publicly. Apologize for the thing that happened. Avoid the “non-pology,” which tends to be something like “I’m sorry you feel that way.” The latter statement doesn’t accept culpability; it’s marginalizing to those offended and will inflame an already heated situation. It’s pouring gasoline on a trash fire.
- Be Specific. When you apologize, explain what happened succinctly. Be honest. Avoid “if” statements – this isn’t a time for philosophical review “if I offended anyone.” You offended someone; your team determined that prior to response planning. Note that an explanation cannot substitute for an apology; it’s time to use specifics and apologize.
- Engage, Don’t Argue. Forrester Research classifies detractors as “legitimate complainers, competitors, engaged critics, flamers and troublemakers.” Negative interactions, when handled quickly and open-mindedly, can be powerful opportunities to build advocacy. Engage legitimate complainers and critics by considering their position, responding politely, apologizing, rectifying the issue directly with them if possible, and inviting their feedback. Create a separate apparatus (a website or forum), where you invite feedback. Develop a plan to show how that feedback been integrated to effect change. Address competitors if they engage you. There’s strength and respect in ownership of an issue.
- Make good. In some instances, a mistake may require a “make good” on a failed purchase or transaction. In other cases, a brand may need to act in good faith to restore trust and rebuild reputation. This element may require more thought, internal and external partnership, and buy in at multiple levels of an organization. This can come to life in the days following response and apology.
- Stay on top of things. In the lightning-fast environment of social media, staying on top of rapid changes is crucial. Keep an eye on how your apology and solution(s) are being received and continue to work to rectify the situation as many times as necessary. Ignore the trolls who will never be satisfied, but listen to detractors who have a legitimate beef. Remember, words alone won’t work – actions do – so make sure you’re walking your talk.
Social media is word of mouth on steroids. When activated quickly, with transparency, it can right the course, even in a derecho of crisis.