Much has been written about how social media can help companies or entities communicate during a crisis, or how national events such as Egypt’s uprising have been influenced by or even started through social media activity. But what if a disaster, natural or man-made, struck your company, building, city or country? Do you have a contingency plan for how your social media would actually operate? Nearly 80% of companies worldwide feel they are unprepared for a social media crisis. Don’t be in this majority; determine if your company is ready by considering the following.

Give Multiple People Access to Your Social Accounts

Heidi Cohen makes a very compelling case for having a “social media backup” or two who can jump in and manage your social media in an emergency. She envisions a social media manager up and quitting, but what if your social media manager was on the wrong side of town when a natural disaster struck, and he or she could not access your accounts? Even if your backups rarely tweet or post for you, make sure they do it occasionally to keep up their skills, as platforms and tools change frequently. And be sure that at least a few people have actual account passwords for your social presences, not just access through HootSuite or their smartphone, in case connectivity is limited and they have to post in an “old-fashioned” way.contingency planning for social media

Plan for Lack of Communication on Your Team

Imagine that your office has been evacuated. Let’s hope it’s a simple thing, like a water main break, and not something more scary, but nonetheless, you and your team have been rushed out of the building and you’re not all in one place. Who’s in charge of social now? Maybe you have one person who usually does it, but they’re a lower-level person and unsure of what to do. Or you have a team who manage your channels, and you can no longer figure out how to tweet and post without stepping on each other’s toes. Now is the time to establish a social media “pecking order” – and be sure that the people who you think may want to speak for the company in a crisis either have access to social media platforms themselves, or access (cell phone, home email address, etc.) to the people who can get the word out using your social presences.

Parallel Your Traditional Crisis Plan in Social Media

It’s very possible that your company already has a traditional crisis communications plan. Dust off that plan and look at it with an eye towards social. Do you have a standard set of messages your company wants to use in a crisis? Write social-friendly versions that fit in 140 characters or that are appropriate for Facebook or your blog. If you have community partnerships already in place (like Red Cross or your local school), consider whether you can leverage those relationships via social media in a crisis; perhaps you can amplify each others’ messages.  And, as above, know what your social media communications hierarchy should be, because it’s unlikely that you’ll want the intern tweeting through a bad time.

Plan For Ongoing Updates

If you’ve done social media well up to this point, you have a loyal following and they may think of your brand as a friend. Friends worry about friends, and your customers and fans could be worried about your company if they know you’re in the midst of a crisis. Even after the initial danger has passed, don’t forget to continually update your presences to keep the channel open, or else your friends will either think the worst, or fill in with their own rumors and speculation. This could be especially important if your crisis happens on a Friday or weekend – keep posting even when you might not normally, so that people can see you’re okay. Unless, of course, you’re not….

If It’s Monumentally Serious

God forbid something really bad happens, and your company determines it’s not appropriate to say much of anything. After September 11, it took a couple of days for many companies to turn off their billboards in Times Square or replace them with messaging that wasn’t the latest beer ad. In today’s immediate, tweet-as-it-happens environment, two days would be too late – if you failed to change your tone or messaging almost immediately, your Facebook wall could be covered in negative sentiment disparaging your brand for not responding appropriately. Consider what happened with BP during the oil spill; while they updated their accounts, they were not engaging at all and left the door open for others to parody their efforts, resulting in increased damage to the brand. So first turn off any pre-scheduled messages in your social queue, and then say something about the crisis, and make it authentic and sincere. Then, if it’s the right thing to do, make it clear that you’re not going to say anything else until your employees are safe. Or your community is secured. Or an appropriate period of mourning has passed. Whatever it is, be smart: just like they taught you in those grammar school tornado drills, a clear head and common sense will be the most help in this situation.

Does your company have a social media crisis contingency plan? There really isn’t that much written on this specific topic yet, so please point us to your plan, if it’s public, or give us your thoughts in the comments.

image courtesy of Shutterstock

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About Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at CrackerjackMarketing.com, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

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  • http://fbml-templates.net Tim Soulo

    Thanks for the post,
    Stephanie. You don’t actually think about it till it happens. We have recently experienced a downtime because of Amazon servers fail and our customers immediately started to post on our Facebook page and Twitter. We were lucky that most of our marketing team are real geeks and almost all of them were online that night – so we were able to provide answers and please our clients almost instantly.
    You should definitely leverage the ability to have multiple admins at your Facebook page as well as give out corporate Twitter passwords to your team!

    • http://www.stephanieschwab.com Stephanie Schwab:Socialologist

      Here you go folks – excellent real-life example! Tim, thanks for giving us your solution.

  • http://trafficcoleman.com/blog/official-black-seo-guy/ Black Seo Guy

    This world is social crazy so why not get your piece of the pie. You must stay consistence to get something out of it though.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • http://twitter.com/n0ellee Noelle Marino

    That’s a really good post for businesses. When there is an emergency, it’s already too late if a business isn’t ready since everything is going so fast with Internet and social medias.

  • http://www.thefourthrevolution.org Jeremie Averous

     Interesting post! Crisis management procedures certainly need to be updatedI also see a great opportunity for specialized organizations to setup solution for crisis management in the virtual world. Substituting communication channels, and multiplying the communication effectiveness. In the world beyond the Fourth Revolution, mastery of reputation in particular during crisis situations will rely on the multiplication of communication channels!

  • http://twitter.com/likeaword Ben Proctor

     Great post and applicable to even the smallest organisation. Social media updates that reassure customers and suppliers that you’ve planned for it, trained for it and have the situation under control should enhance the customer’s reputation.

  • Notjudith Dex

    This post is simply amazing! Thank you for sharing this. I’ll continue subscribing to your post.

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