How to integrate social media in crisis communications


ePublicist / Foter / CC BY-ND

A crisis is a time of uncertainty that requires the careful management of information. If you don’t move quickly to present the facts and explain your position, then others will do it for you – and that puts the accuracy of the words and images they use beyond your control.

The words and images you use can either spell success and strengthen your future or damage your company’s reputation for years to come. The impact of social media on the crisis communications process has been significant.

Today information flows faster is more complex and independent. It is spread through multiple channels, and as a result, is often less reliable and more difficult to control. You often have just a few hours or minutes to communicate.

Social media must be fully integrated in your crisis communications plan. That means, your social networks are of equal import as other audiences and your community manager should be an effective communicator, as well as a media-savvy professional with appropriate technical skills.

Messaging must be also consistent with other channels, but appropriate for social networks. Candor is expected and an authentic voice is critical.  And, as crisis communications is a two-way process, listening through your social networks can inform your communications with many different audiences.

Above all, you need to consider and plan for all contingencies. Each type of crisis should be considered. Social media will play a critical role in communicating during and after natural disasters, terrorist attacks, cyber breaches and, of course, crises created by social media. But also consider its role in financial crises, human resources issues and (in the insurance world) claims and service issues.

Join me on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015 at 11 a.m. EST for the IMCA webcast, “Integrating Social Media in Crisis Communications,” where I’ll explore these issues in more detail.

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Socially Irresponsible

Some small business owners don’t believe in using experts for social media engagement and content development. They see the practice as novel and unproven – until it isn’t.

Such is the case of The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, N.Y. This picturesque small town inn quickly discovered the demonstrative impact of social media when comments about a fines-for-reviews policy hit the inn’s Facebook page and Yelp, the popular online review site.

According to an ABC News story resulting from the social media dust-up, the inn claims its “policy” was posted to its website as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding from years ago and should have been taken down. The policy in essence stated bridal parties would be fined $500, taken from deposit monies, for each negative review the inn might receive connected to a particular wedding or event.

A Google search for the inn's name brings with it a wealth of negative online content that will impact the business' bottom line.

A Google search for the inn’s name brings with it a wealth of negative online content that will impact the business’ bottom line.

Unfortunately, a simple Google search of the inn’s name now produces both a link to the inn’s website, as well as countless social media and news articles referencing this not-so-amusing policy.

The result is a Search Engine Optimization nightmare for the inn coupled with a runaway train of negative comments on its Facebook page (more than 200 at this writing; although it appears the inn may now be deleting posts from its Facebook page).

Since this firestorm hit mainstream media, the inn's Facebook page has been inundated with negative posts.

Since this firestorm hit mainstream media, the inn’s Facebook page has been inundated with negative posts.

The news coverage and social media firestorm – with only a half-hearted response from management that appears to have since been deleted  – have created a massive public relations problem to overcome. This isn’t the type of crisis you wait out. And without a strategy for responding to and recovering from this communications nightmare, The Union Street Guest House is likely to see a steep decline in business, assuming it has the wherewithal to survive at all.

Small businesses are successful because they do what they do well. Where they often fail is when they try to do something outside of their expertise.

By consulting with a social media professional or brand content specialist, small businesses can avoid errors – even tongue-in-cheek responses – that might not seem substantial at the time, but with an extra set of trained eyes, can be seen for the potential disasters they are and thus avoided. Alternatively, bringing in the professionals after a crisis has erupted is not optimal, but it can mean the difference between staying in business or going under.

Most freelancers or public relations agencies can find equitable arrangements with small businesses that won’t break the bank, and can avoid or attempt to correct business-ending mistakes.

For a free consultation on how working with a public relations agency can help protect and promote your business, please contact me at rhughes@kimballpr.com.

Hack of a Whopper

On Feb. 18, 2013, Burger King's Twitter account was hacked garnering national media coverage and the ire of brand followers.

On Feb. 18, 2013, Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked garnering national media coverage and the ire of brand followers.

Crisis happens. When the crisis involves social media, it can have one heck of an impact on brand.

When Burger King’s Twitter handle was hacked today, the brand’s logo was changed to that of McDonald’s. The hackers also posted crude language, @ messages to questionable accounts, and video and photographs that had little to do with the brand and no doubt annoyed followers. Oddly, they boosted Burger King’s followers by more than 20,000 before the account was suspended.

Twitter followers noticed, as did CNN, ABC News and Fast Company’s Teressa Lezzi who published stories about the hacking within minutes.

If you manage a Twitter account for a brand and that account is hacked, what steps should your crisis plan include?

At the first indication of trouble, immediately log in and change the password. If you are able to log in and change the password, go into your settings and review all of the third-party apps connected to your account. Revoke access to all third-party apps until you can better assess the situation. (Be sure to revisit these apps once the situation is under control to ensure all brand account functionality.)

If you are not able to access the account and change the password, go to the Support Request section of Twitter and under Account Access select the “Hacked account” option. This will give Twitter the necessary “heads up” to suspend your account and avoid endless amounts of spam being sent to your followers. It will also allow you to reset your password.

While you work to regain control of your Twitter account, post a notification to your brand’s blog, website and other social platforms. This notification should simply state:

  • Your Twitter account has been compromised
  • You are working to remedy the situation, and
  • Your Followers should not click on any posted links until otherwise notified.

Such action lets your followers know you are aware of the situation. It can even foster good will among followers irritated by the hacking event.

As a precaution, make sure you use a secure password including letters, numbers and capitalization that cannot be easily determined. This password – especially if multiple people have access to the account – should be changed regularly.

Using dashboards like SproutSocial or HootSuite can also help minimize risk. We also suggest you follow @Safety or @Spam to stay alert to the latest spammer activity or malware.

Some crises can’t be avoided. But they can be mitigated through close monitoring, training and ensuring a workable plan is in place.

Interested in training your team to handle a social media crisis? Email us at info@kimballpr.com for information.

Sandy, Superstorm, Frankenstorm—How Agencies Should Handle Any Storm

Solitude / Foter / CC BY-SA

Like many fellow communications professionals, hearing the words “Frankenstorm” didn’t scare us away from our workdays this week. Some of us may have faced the effects of Hurricane Sandy head-on like one Philadelphia editor, but, for many of us, we could sit at home and work right from our smartphones and laptops without having to feel a raindrop (hopefully.)

So, when the business world is taking a “hurricane day,” what do you do? The answer to this is something agencies hopefully had prepared yesterday.

PR agencies can’t put a “Closed” sign on their email accounts or turn off their smartphones just because they can’t drive to work. Unless major wires are destructed or phones lose the last of their battery life, PR agencies can remain open for business.

Employees need to be prepared to deliver to their clients, communicate effectively with one another and, most importantly, protect themselves, whether a record-breaking hurricane hits or the power just happens to blow out on a perfectly sunny day.

The Quiet Before the Storm

Just as you would prepare for a client—prepare your own crisis communications plan before the event of a crisis. The news and National Weather Service prepared us for a worst case scenario for this #Superstorm, so agencies should be just as ready for their clients and themselves.

As Entrepreneur.com suggests, assess any possible risks your company may face, including weather events and property damage. Moreover, consider what to do if key employees are absent or unavailable; keep contact lists and passwords in a safe, accessible place.

Make the communications plan known to employees throughout the year so your team can navigate as smoothly as possible through a workday with turbulent weather.

On the Big Day

Just like any regular morning meeting, the first step in tackling a storm is to set up a virtual team meeting and prioritize. Over a conference line or chat room, discuss top deliverables that must be completed.

Next to consider is your clients. Alert your clients via email, Twitter—any channel necessary to inform them that you are available to fulfill their needs.

Throughout the day of a disaster, keep your co-workers and clients continually updated on work progress, as well as your safety, and follow these tips from PR News to work from home most successfully.

Finally, keep yourself safe and pass work onto others if you begin lose access to forms of communication. And, if you find yourself sitting in the dark, pull out your nearest candle, take out the old ereader—I mean book—and just wait until the storm passes.

Photo credit: Solitude / Foter / CC BY-SA

Where I am in June

It’s June and that means I start my annual trek crisscrossing the United States for our long-time client AMSkier Insurance. AMSkier insures children’s camps (in fact, they are the largest direct insurer of camps in the country). Company president Henry Skier came up with a novel idea a couple decades ago – offer a 24-hour crisis management services to the camps they insure. And that’s where I come in, handling crises when they arise at camps in the summer months. But that’s not why I travel in June.

Several years ago, Henry asked me to fill in and do some of the staff safety training during orientation. Hmm… other than war stories from the crises I’ve managed, what did I know about training staff? Not much. But with the lure of trips to places like Malibu and Carmel Valley, and training by my colleague and friend Norm Friedman, I reluctantly agreed. I found myself in front of hundreds of counselors discussing sexual abuse and other tough topics. Frankly, I was terrified. But I was well received and reluctantly agreed to do a few other camps the next year.

Then something happened. As I discussed how to handle disclosures of abuse to a group of counselors in Chattanooga, a young woman stood up and told her fellow counselors that this very advice I had given the year before had helped her help a little girl who had been abused at home. That was the epiphany. Sure, this was not my specialty and certainly not my comfort zone. But these workshops were helping keep kids safe.

So now I’m 30,000 feet in the air en route to Texas, followed by California, Palm Desert, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina and more. I’m still not in my comfort zone, still terrified and still hate flying. But each year I agree. I just can’t get that image from Chattanooga out of my mind.