How to manage a PR crisis on social media

Social media can be a valuable platform if you are responsible for crisis communications. You can continually monitor what your stakeholders are talking about and how they are feeling so you may be able to spot an issue before it becomes a crisis. But, there will inevitably be times when you can’t and social media can become a liability.

By having a presence on social media, everyone can see what you are doing, whether proactive or reactive. Crisis risks used to be private but now they are very public and the world can see your crisis ‘prevention’ activities.

So how do you manage a crisis risk in public?

Timothy Coombs, Professor of Communications at Texas A&M University shared this advice in a recent webinar hosted by PR Academy:

The basics:

Crisis scanning – Identify early. Find the crisis before it finds you

Crisis monitoring – Keep on top of the debate and where it could be headed next

Crisis responding – Use the platform(s) to get your message out as quickly and responsibly as possible

Social media allows for fast placement of messages, quick adjustments and you can use multiple channels at a low cost to reach as many people as possible. But, an audience’s expectation of how quickly you should respond can be unrealistic and the “jumble of voices” online means you need a well-established social media presence ahead of a crisis so you don’t get lost in the noise.

Ways to respond to challenges on social media:

Refusal – Keep quiet and hope it goes away– not a good idea!

Refutation – Duck, dodge and denyagain, never a good idea

Repression – Try and suppress the sharing of opinions and information relating to the crisis – not a good idea!

Recognition – Recognise the issue/complaint/problem and, when appropriate, accept the challenge. This is a typical response: “we understand”, “we are aware”, “we are working to resolve the issue” – this should be your minimum standard

Revision – Listen and make changes. This can take time so a combination of recognition and revision is sometimes required. The key is to ensure you communicate the changes you have made to your audience and complete the picture for them – aiming a bit higher

Reform – True reform, that is. Essentially, this is a change of core practice within the business that is felt across the organisation – certainly not in all instances. A “storm in a teacup” would never warrant this level of response

Clearly, there are times when social media is an asset and others when it is a liability for the crisis communications professional. The trick, if you can master it, is to get the balance to tip in your favour as often as possible.