Social media can work like an early warning system to alert an organization to an emerging problem; it can also recycle old news and spread misinformation and rumors. In either case, it is important to be prepared with a plan to address negative themes that are being amplified in social media, which can attract broader media coverage, as well as potential damage to the company and brand.

Smart companies prepare crisis response protocols as part of their social media strategy or as part of an overall corporate crisis communications plan. A typical crisis plan covers areas such as:

  • Definition of roles and responsibilities. Who is responsible for monitoring social media accounts? Is there an expectation that this will be done 24×7? What channels will be monitored? When negative comments appear, what will happen?
  • Process and workflow. The person who monitors social media should have a process prepared in advance for responding to various types of attacks. In some cases, this individual may take the lead in providing a quick response, but often another department must get involved. The social monitoring team must maintain an up-to-date list of contacts who can be reached in the event of a problem. Typically, the most important departments are customer service, legal and communications.
  • Agree on the timeframe for response. In social media, it’s usually best to respond in as short a period of time as possible, especially on channels such as Twitter where a snowball effect can happen very quickly. For blogs and other forms of social media where posting is less frequent, a well-reasoned response may take longer to prepare, but it is important to respond with some urgency. In the case of an influential blogger, there may be a quick response in the form of a comment, followed by outreach from the communications team to provide information.
  • Training and practice. As virtually any employee may uncover a social media attack, all employees must be trained what to do. Best-in-class organizations practice crisis response in a variety of scenarios. This helps to uncover gaps in response plans, so problems can be handled more quickly when they occur.
  • Consider a number of factors when deciding how to respond, including the person/entity posting the comment, the topic, and how it relates to the company and your ability to effect change. While all situations are different, all responses should be respectful and sincere. Avoid any displays of emotion that can themselves become the subject of social media chatter. A prompt but measured response shows that the company is listening and cares what people think, but does not suggest a panicky over-reaction. Handled correctly, a social media response can become a moment of truth that turns a vocal detractor into an advocate!