You can’t always predict when a crisis is going to hit your business. But you can take care of how you handle that crisis … and also make sure to have a plan in place for when a new crisis pops up.
As a former meteorologist and storm chaser (yes, really), I’ve been able to see gathering storms and upcoming disasters. But not all tough times can be predicted.
Sometimes, you get sideswiped. And that’s what’s been happening globally with the COVID-19 crisis.
Nobody expects a global pandemic. Most of us social media managers operate and plan for businesses to continue to succeed, and everything to be good in the world. Everything is not sunshine and rainbows all the time. (I have to tell myself that sometimes.)
So, you should always have a crisis plan and checklist to use when needed. You don’t want to scramble to determine how to approach the situation.
The No. 1 thing you need to do is pause all scheduled content and take a step back to assess the situation. (Don’t forget to take a couple of deep breaths.)
Understand all sides, and gather all the information possible, so you have a holistic view of the issue at hand. Ask yourself, “Does this impact just our company or is it a national or global concern?”
The following initial crisis checklist should already be part of your crisis plan:
Next, look at your company’s mission statement and goals. Ask yourself, “How does this problem impact your company’s mission? Can you go on like business as usual? What do you need to tweak?”
Now, put yourself in your customers’ place regarding social media messaging. You need to understand what their thought process is right now, their needs, and their wants.
One of the best things you can do is confront the crisis and then ask your customers, “How can we help you through this?”
You need to be sensitive to the issue. Relate to your audience. Understand that this is a difficult time for your customers and fans, and reassure them you are there for them. Provide useful information they can start implementing immediately to strengthen their company or business.
Remember when curating content during a time of crisis:
People crave interaction and acceptance. During a time where things aren’t normal, maintain some type of normalcy and positivity for your customers and fans.
To understand how they are handling and processing the situation, you can ask them how are they doing and adapting to the situation. You can also ask, “What is the most important thing you need right now?” Their responses will give you a good idea of the type of resources and content that will benefit them the most.
Strengthening and building your community is a great way to show your support. If you don’t have a Facebook group or some kind of private group or Slack channel, create one if this is a widespread crisis that will last several weeks to months. In the group, you can share resources and start conversations where members can collaborate to help each other and show support.
Groups are a smart way to show extra support and to prevent potentially “spamming” other people that follow your content on your main social channels that aren’t impacted.
Live video is the best way to directly communicate with your customers and fans, especially during a crisis. If you haven’t done a live video, check out these tips about how to create an Instagram live video or LinkedIn videos. (If you’re awkward in front of the camera, these tips for camera-shy social media managers can help.)
Video responses to social media replies and in company- or customer-wide emails are also a great way to instantly humanize your brand, become more relatable, and connect with your employees and customers—all while getting the appropriate messages you need to get across.
A great way to control the conversation and maintain a positive mindset is to highlight any positive outcomes from the situation. Making sure to have positive content is also key to keeping your customers’ thoughts (and yours) positive.
Any easy way to do this is to ask your customers and fans, “What positive thing has happened to you personally or professionally recently?” You’ll likely be amazed by the outpouring of responses that come in.
Along with connecting with your customers and fans, one of the most critical components to successfully responding to a time of crisis is making your PR and social media teams and messages align.
Digital strategist Stephanie Liu shares her insight on the best ways for your PR and social media teams to work together:
“It’s important for PR and social media teams to cooperate on a unified message that will be broadcast across all channels. It’s not about speed, it’s about strategy. This is an opportunity for both teams to discuss what works and what doesn’t work on channels to eliminate blind spots.
“This isn’t a time to play email whack-a-mole either. Schedule a conference call to lay out the details and next steps. Taking a few extra beats now to get your strategy right can help prevent having to work on damage control later because your initial messaging didn’t have the right tone or all the information it needed to convey.
“Next, have processes in place to Manage Your Online Presence.
“When an event like the novel coronavirus impacts all industries, there’s more that your Social Media team can do in addition to keeping customers informed with posts. Take the time to update your hours of operation across all social media profiles and online listings that appear in search results, such as Google My Business, Yelp, and so on.
“If the way that you conduct business has or will change, post about that as well. Be transparent and communicative so that your audience is as well informed as you can make them.
“If you don’t already have a Crisis Playbook, create a Google Doc now and start documenting everything that you’re doing through the current issue, so each time your team has to navigate trouble, there’s less confusion and delay.
“For some businesses and thought leaders, the next step is an interesting one: Winning the Pitch.
“If you or your client is the subject matter expert in a particular industry, the PR team can look for opportunities to pitch the media and provide expertise either written or via video interview. The social media team can help support the pitch by providing a list of curated content that can be used in the media overview, such as past instances of interviews.
“Even better, create a content library organized by topic to make finding and repurposing content even faster. Say, for example, the CEO for one of your client brands is an expert on managing a remote workforce and has blog posts, guest columns and major media outlet interviews they’ve done on the topic in the past. A savvy PR team will have those at their fingertips to reference when reaching out to journalists and media outlets.
“If you aren’t already, jump into Help A Reporter Out (HARO) where you can search for active media stories, as well as set up alerts for new requests that might be of interest.
“Finally, with PR and Social Media working overtime during a PR crisis, we always recommend updating your email signature to link to the latest updates. This will give recipients an opportunity to stay updated while waiting for your timely response.
“This applies to both internal and external issues. When it’s an external issue, you can have blog content or videos there to simply help your audience and customers with whatever is going on. If it’s an internal issue, you may have a press release or landing page with updated information and resources.
“As with any issue, pre-planning can help tremendously, but no amount of pre-planning can anticipate every nuance of any crisis. So give yourself time to consider what has happened or is happening, how it will impact your business and, most importantly, what your customers and audience is most concerned about. Then set out to be the best possible communicators you can be.”
Be proactive in your approach, so your customers know where your company stands, what resources you can provide, and if there are any changes to hours of operation or processes.
Remember no matter the situation, be compassionate, understanding, and relatable as your customers’ needs change. You need to maintain a fluid strategy that can easily be pivoted due to changing circumstances.
Lastly, be the kind of company you would want them to be if you were a customer.
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