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How to Integrate Social Media Into Your Crisis Communication Plan

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Integrating Social Media in The Crisis Communication Plan
‘As communicators we deal with crisis all the time. If we do our jobs well, most people won’t know they ever happened.’- Victoria Harris, PR Newswire

Do you have a crisis communication plan in this social media age? Why? Well because bad things do happen from time to time. More so if you are operating a big business. Ask Kenya Airways (KQ) or Mumias Sugar Company (MSC).

Any brand that does not have a crisis communication team (plan) handy is planning to succumb to crisis hits. You would rather have a crisis communication team ready, without any incident; than be without and go through an incident that will drive you out of business. It happened to PanAm. Do you remember them?

Pan American Airline’s flight was destroyed by terrorists over Lockerbie. The company suffered a PR disaster when it emerged that warnings had been given about a bomb on the aircraft. The fact that PanAm received an average of four bomb warnings a day made no difference to the public perception. Shortly afterward, PanAm went out of business. Just like that.

However, this article isn’t so much about having a crisis communication plan: rather how do we plan for a crisis in this social media age? The idea here is integrating social media into your crisis communication plan. For reasons known: social media is the new media, and its reach has made companies more susceptible to potentially damaging situations.

In a research by Altimeter Group: ‘It has been more than 10 years since social media began to disrupt organizations. In that time, it has gone from being a “bright shiny object” that confounded business leaders, to becoming a widely adopted means of customer engagement.' This is where the people (customers ) who hold your brand's life are.

As much as social media has dissolved traditional boundaries, creating a sense of proximity between brands and consumers, it has also made companies more vulnerable. Considering that, we have over 1 billion facebook users and 400 million tweets sent per day: how can we afford not to integrate social media into our crisis communication plan?

The other day: we heard of how James Mwangi - CEO Equity Bank, allegedly sexually harassed Esther Passaris - founder of the adopt-a-light program. The article by Cyprian Nyakundi was validated by Esther’s own comment on the matter. I imagine, this ‘expose’ must have caught James Mwangi, unawares. Right? As much as its toll has not been felt, we all know it has left a crevice. Through social media, many heard about this. Even before the mainstream media picked it up. Back to the matter at hand.

For you to develop a strong crisis strategy, there are best practices that integrate social media into the traditional crisis communications framework that are essential. You need to know these 10 things in order to leverage social media to manage and even prevent crises:

1. Implement Policies to Address Potential Vulnerabilities
Have you noticed the way, employees don’t quite know when they should or shouldn’t comment on matters touching on the company? It is not their fault. Who wouldn’t want committed employees? But, this is tricky grounds.

In this age, there is a thin line between personal and professional lives. Once, this is not clear, chances are high of employees commenting on topics, which would otherwise result in irreparable damages. What to do? The team responsible for handling any crisis: should have clear policies, detailing what participants (social media) should do or not do in particular situations.

For instance: In the event a customer comments negatively about a product, let the social media manager, and or marketing director respond to the comment.

2. Use Social Media as a Tool for Crisis Monitoring
Where else if not on social media? If you would like to know what people are saying about your brand, go on social media and do the noble thing: listen. Armed with this knowledge, why not use social media to track issues that might affect your brand? Your social media team should man the social media space ready to fish any comment that might otherwise result in a full-blown catastrophe if left unattended.

3. Understand the Response-ability of Social Media
Gone are the days, when you only had to be close to traditional media to know your roof is on fire. Traditional media’s, inaccessibility, made it take longer for word to spread. Today, residents in Nairobi, in a matter of minutes, will know what is happening in Garissa. To imply that social media has significantly altered the rate at which information is exchanged and consumed. 

Social media has substantially reduced the window organizations have to respond in moments of crisis. On facebook, it might take 12 hours to respond to a crisis, while on twitter it is a matter of minutes. This new normal has to be factored in. Not only should you have people ready to act during normal working hours: but also after working hours – Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm.

4. Establish a Framework for Response
In a crisis communication, we have what we call, a war room. This is where; the crisis team goes in to put out the fire and come out either victorious and or the people who brought down an entire organization. You would not dream to be part of that team. At least when things pan out differently.

Regardless of the outcome: it is important that you have all passwords, gadgets accessible for such a time. You should well in advance, establish who will be your fighters in the “war room” as well as which individuals will be making decisions and communicating directives to teams tasked with responding to events on the ground. This team should be ready at all times: more so during this time.

5. Build a Social Media Crisis Toolkit
Make sure to include social media when preparing toolkits for your crisis response efforts. These include standardized, pre-approved templates for blog posts, tweets, and other social media platforms that are in harmony with the rest of the brand's response efforts.

6. Know Where to Respond
With the many channels, you must know where your constituents are. The idea is to make sure that your message reaches your constituents directly. This proves that you are willing to engage with your audiences, in the forums where they are. Do not stop there. Make sure that you include all other communication channels.

7. Prepare Your Employees in Advance
To be forewarned is to be fore-armed. As management, you want to maintain a consistent message across the company. From customer care to the c-suite, everyone should read from the same script.

8. Establish the Proper Tone
Remember when you were developing your strategy: there was that section of choosing a company tone: formal or informal? In the wake of a crisis, you must not let that restrict you in your responses. Make sure that in your message, you do not come out as insensitive just because you chose to an informal tone when responding to a crisis. Just remember to choose a tone depending on the context and situation at hand.

9. Hit the Automation Kill Switch
With the many social channels owned by a company, the use of software to manage these channels has been necessary. But in a crisis, all these software must be shut down. Everything needs to be brought under the care of the crisis communication team. The reason is, in the event that your release a post off topic, you might just be seen as insensitive and carefree of the needs of the customers and all affected parties.

10. Be Honest, Be Transparent
Ultimately, in all crisis honesty will help you go a long way. “There is no such thing as too much information. During a disaster or crisis, Twitter, and other social media can provide an instant view of conditions on the ground.” – The Guardian

Continued transparency and communication will help keep the public informed and updated throughout the duration of a crisis. Even sharing bad news in these moments will be appreciated for its honest and will help re-establish long-term trust once the crisis abates.

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