Key Learnings From A Major Crisis No Company Should Go Without

By: Sofie De Beule

May 17, 2016

Last week, a group of Engagor users who had recently dealt with major crises gathered for a roundtable discussion. The topic was crisis management in the social customer service space, and they met to discuss their recent experiences and to exchange best practices. In the light of recent crisis events across the world, including the recent bombings only 30 minutes from the Engagor offices, social media crisis management has become a critical concern. As a result, a lot of companies are rethinking their crisis plans to make sure they tick all the boxes.

Social media is usually the first means to pick up on a crisis somewhere across globe–and can even saves lives. It’s also the preferred go-to for customers to reach out to your brand in time of emergency, as traditional channels of communication typically lag behind (e.g. due to a telephone network outage, etc.). Your company must be prepared to handle a volcano of social media mentions, know how to engage with customers confidently and in a timely manner in times of extreme crisis, and have a plan in place that lets you easily staff up when you need extra hands.

Below are some really valuable best practices and golden rules that were shared across the table that every company should swear by.

1. Take a step back, and put all heads together. When a major crisis hits, it’s tempting to dive in right away and immediately start answering questions. However, it’s key to distance yourself from the situation, get all your necessary resources in place, sit down face-to-face, analyze the most recent information, and discuss what your strategy will be. It’s really hard to determine how a crisis will evolve within the next few hours, and each crisis is unique. You need to evaluate the situation, get all the right people on board, and come up with key action items and next steps to make sure everyone is on the same page. In the next stages of the crisis (and for the hours to come), using your team chat is the perfect means to discuss issues case-by-case.

2. Activate your crisis procedure, and follow your go-to crisis checklist. If you have a crisis plan in place, you should instantly roll out your procedure. One of the essential parts of a social media crisis plan is a checklist that includes all the next steps you need to go through to act with confidence. Key action items in your checklist can include:

  • Disable any advertising campaigns (e.g. imagine promoting a trip to Brasil in the heat of a crisis) for the time being
  • Disable scheduled social media posts for the time being
  • For some type of crisis, you can also publish a grey Twitter and Facebook header or logo to express your sympathy
  • Maintain your tone of voice and show empathy: don’t publish tweets that feel impersonal and cold
  • If necessary, make an official company statement within the next hour

3. Prioritize urgent mentions. It might seem as if every message is urgent during a crisis, but you must focus on those customers that really need your help first, especially in life-threatening situations. Analyze all the incoming mentions and tag those need a prompt response to make sure you gather all of them in just one inbox folder. However, in some cases, the volume is too high and tagging mentions just adds an extra step that slows your agents down.

4. Prepare for the “day after the crisis”. A lot of companies usually invest all of their efforts in the first day of a crisis as volume peaks are expected to be a lot higher than usual. Contrary to popular belief, the volume of incoming mentions is actually reasonably higher on the second day as more customers reach out when emotions are starting to temper. In the aftermath of a crisis, it’s important to get more resources on board as more and more information will be made public.

5. Be aware of external factors that can cause hiccups during a crisis. Unfortunately, during a crisis, some factors are simply beyond your control. For example, during a natural disaster, your IT infrastructure and power network might lag. If you’re a global company with multiple social media teams across the globe, make sure you can call upon extra resources abroad to continue to respond to customers. Not being able to respond to customers due to a power cut-off is unacceptable.

6. Make sure everyone knows they’re involved in the crisis plan. A social media crisis plan (or general crisis plan) obviously involves multiple departments and it’s become essential to have one. Unfortunately, in most cases, not all departments are aware they play a key role in the crisis plan. Don’t make it an afterthought to regularly educate and coach your team members on what it actually entails and in which manner other teams are involved. Never forget that a crisis plan is worthless if you don’t involve the right people!

7. Get a person from the Corporate Communications department on board. Once you know you’re dealing with a crisis situation, make sure there’s a member from your Corporate Communications department to help support your social media team. The Corporate Communications department usually is the department that writes up the official corporate statements to send out into the world. Make sure you’re aligned with Corporate Communications–giving your customers mixed messages can really harm your brand.

Dealing with a major crisis is extremely tough and puts a lot of pressure on your resources. Make sure you have a plan in place that is regularly updated. Once a major crisis hits, don’t be afraid to step back to get all the necessary people involved within your organization, and come up with key action items for the hours to come to ensure you’re able to smoothly communicate within the team and with your customers.