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One of the benefits of social media is undoubtedly its immediacy and its timeliness. It gives the user a way to be present with their audience in almost any situation, sharing continuous information from wherever they are and enjoying ongoing discussions that can’t always be limited to a contained period. It is this very reason that social media is one of the most widely-used ways that brands and organisations connect with their audiences, particularly in times of crisis. When hit by complications; difficulties, and perhaps even blind panic, brands need a way to cut through the fog of spectacle and reach out to their customers; taking decisive responsibility for the matter at hand and issuing a clear plan of action. So how can brands go about doing this? Here is a five step guide to using social media in crisis management.
1. Timing is everything
Social media is all about timing. Brands should waste no time diving into the conversation the moment a crisis strikes, and silence should NOT be an option. The sooner you can prove to customers that you are present and dedicated to addressing an issue, you will earn your customers’ trust. If possible, making customers aware of a service disruption or impending blunder before it has even happened is highly advised. Not only will this show transparency and garner more respect for your brand; it will also give you a chance to offer instructions to customers and allow them to make appropriate preparations for the storm.
During any crisis, the frequency of updates is key. Social media consultancy firm Frishling advises issuing a new update every ten minutes in the immediate aftermath, even if there is nothing new to report. You may be able to leave more time between updates in the days and weeks that follow of course, and this is natural. However, it is important to keep the pressure turned up until your brand and your customers are out of the danger zone. This is when all customer questions have been answered; the situation has been or is being addressed, and when there is no longer anyone at risk.
2. Own the conversation
In times of negativity, social media will often be the first place customers head to – not just for information, but to give their own insight and perhaps even bash your brand in the process. Don’t let the conversation get out of control – decide on an appropriate hashtag for the events to follow and use this as a symbol across all your platforms for all trustworthy, reliable and honest information surrounding the crisis. Doing this from the very beginning will not only inhibit people from devising their own illegitimate hashtags (that can mislead customers and lead to some bad press); it will also make sure your brand is the leading, go-to source of information for everything to do with the crisis.
[Note how Southwest Airlines maintains the same hashtag for each of its social media platforms for clarity.]
One marvelous example of this was South West Airlines. Following the July 2013 crash of its Flight 345, the airline issued an official hashtag by which all news about the emergency could be traced, and was found engaging with Twitter followers barely half an hour after the incident had taken place. This swiftness of response and boldness to step into the social media limelight garnered the company considerable admiration and respect not just from customers, but from the media and social media analysts too.
3. Stick to a designated source
It is advisable that brands limit the number of places that people feel they need to look to find dedicated information regarding a crisis. Otherwise, information can become scattered and misinterpreted; and focus can be lost. Choose one platform on which all of the detailed information will be posted – whether it is a specific blog or RSS feed built for the purpose, or your most affluent social platform like Twitter or Tumblr. Use your other platforms to direct the flow of user traffic towards your primary source. Imagine it like a funnel, where several streams all point back to one reliable outlet.
4. Give a call to action
If there’s one thing that customers hate more than a service crisis, it’s being left hanging with no instruction or advice on what to do next. It doesn’t matter that you can’t provide an explanation for the crisis just yet – people don’t like to be kept waiting with time on their hands, so it’s important to give explicit calls to action in your updates. These can be as simple as directing customers towards external sources of advice, or giving practical tips on what they could do to minimise the impact of the emergency. In all of your updates, you should aim for this formula:
“update/description + what is currently being done to fix it + call to action”
5. Don’t lash out
There will indeed be cases where illegitimate feeds of information will somehow seep into the airwaves, giving false information or unsourced explanations surrounding the crisis. While it’s tempting to react aggressively towards these feeds by attempts to censor the information or threaten legal action, it is advisable that you don’t. Doing so could further chink the integrity of your brand and lead users to thinking you have something to hide.
One such example of this behaviour comes from payday lending firm Wonga. In early 2014, the firm reacted strongly to a piece of satirical artwork created by a Twitter user which reflected negatively on the Wonga brand. The user was sent a threatening legal notice which promised court action if the image was not removed from Twitter. Although it cited copyright infringement as its reason, neither the media or the Twitter world were impressed, and contacted Wonga with a tirade of backlash for trying to censor the user and banish creative freedom.
Leave it lie
If you’ve correctly took charge of the conversation with an appropriate hashtag as mentioned earlier, all other illegitimate information should just be left to lie. If it is necessary, warn your audience against such sources and remind them that for all official updates on the matter, you’re the one to turn to. All that’s left then is to deliver a trustworthy, responsible and genuinely useful stream of updates that your customers can truly depend on. Guest author: Adele Halsall is a researcher and writer for Customer Service Guru. She is passionate about consumer trends and is particularly experienced in marketing and customer engagement & loves contributing to debates related to best business practices, start-up culture and customer relations. Contact her at @gurucustomers.
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