Social media’s part in your crisis comms plan

A lot of corporations have crisis communications plans. However many don’t yet incorporate social media platforms into their crisis planning. And that’s dangerous.

First things first.

What’s a crisis communications plan?

It’s a plan that helps remind you of the steps to take during a crisis – which can include threats to life like a fire or food contamination; major workplace accidents; a Chief Executive Officer being accused of a crime; a factory line being out of action; stop work action and so on – anything which could disrupt your business operations and if not dealt with carefully, put you out of business. These plans are often put together by a team including PR professionals and legal advisors. There are also risk management consultants who can put your plan together.

Crisis communications
Crisis communications

Your crisis communications plan will typically outline elements like:

  • Who speaks to the media
  • The priority audiences you need to talk to (employees, customers, government)
  • Who needs to be consulted and drawn into a ‘crisis operations centre’ (managers, board members, legal counsel, PR counsel)
  • The communication channels at your disposal (website, intranet, media conference etc)

Today, crises can be played out online and organisations need to monitor social media for a variety of things:

  • Is anyone asking you questions on your social media platforms? (What would you do if someone posted onto your Facebook page, asking whether their husband was involved in the factory accident? What would you do if someone tweeted you, asking if it’s true there’s been a contamination in your organisation’s canteen? Or if someone tweeted photos of a fire taking place at your venue?)
  • Is anyone speculating about your crisis on social media? Are they painting an inaccurate picture? Can you step in and provide your official response?

This means you need to think about incorporating the following into your crisis communications plan:

  1. Who will monitor social media platforms during crises? Which platforms will they monitor; what tools will they use; when will they report back to the crisis management team? Does this person have enough time to manage social media or do you need more resources (your media officer may be busy with traditional media requests). Are they authorised and able to answer queries independently?
  2. What’s the process for distributing information on social media? Typically, a statement or key messages will be drafted and the same information will be supplied to the traditional media, members of the public and social media followers. However be mindful that queries may come swiftly on social media and people will be anxiously waiting for responses. An interim statement may be needed.
  3. The traditional media (press, radio, TV) may be monitoring your social media communities to report on the conversations taking place there. Your responses – or lack of response – may appear in the media shortly afterwards.

More reading: Coles and other social media crises I’ve met.

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