This is an article that I wrote for the January edition of IT Now which was published this week
You already know that social media is changing the way you find information and will fundamentally change the way you interact online. But with the media focus on errors, mistakes and PR disasters, how do you reassure your executives that if things do go wrong, you have an effective and workable process in place to mitigate the effects if it occurs at your company?
Many companies also don’t have an effective crisis management plan in place. They have no procedures to deal with an online or crisis catastrophic physical event involving their employees and the results can be devastating. Therefore, companies that are starting to use social media for communication or customer support should consider having a comprehensive structured procedure to cover all possibilities, potential issues and aspects of managing a crisis.
Consider the problems that Toyota had earlier this year with vehicle product recalls and issues with brakes and accelerator pedals. Toyota initially had no plans in place to deal with communications with customers and remained largely silent until the crisis had escalated to global proportions. The media speculated on what was happening, community forums were reporting stories, complaints, and criticism of the company. Toyota had an estimated 10% wiped off the value of the brand. When the crisis continued to grow people were kept well informed by blogs and Tweets. But these messages seemed to have come too late to keep the reputation of the brand.
This type of issue, and others like it, could be minimised by implementing an effective brand monitoring program that watches for change of sentiment about the brand, and looks for spikes in user engagement or dissatisfaction. This approach could avoid nascent PR problems which might go unnoticed by the brand. Early action by the brand can turn issues into non-issues due to early engagement with customers.
Engagement and proactive conversation which reduces the customer’s pain and keeps them informed is a good approach to minimising the effects of a crisis. If you keep your customers satisfied by regular communications they will turn to your channel and not turn to the media for information. When issues arise, companies who keep the media and customers informed will avoid speculation about what is happening. In December 2008, Ford had an issue with a long running Ford fan site called the Ranger Station. Ford sent the owners of the site a ‘cease and desist’ letter requesting that they dropped the use of the name ‘Ranger’. The news spread like wildfire across many Ford user forums which quickly looked like Ford’s actions were turning into a PR disaster. Scott Monty, Fords social media manager systematically minimised the effects of the PR firestorm within 24 hours using social media channels. Scott satisfied the customers’ needs to know what was going on in almost real time, keeping the community informed and happy. This stopped speculation on other 3rd party web sites and drew attention right back to where the news was happening – from the team that was involved – at Ford.
Usual PR diversionary tactics and tricks – delay, deflect, defend weren’t needed at all – and this helped in the crisis management strategy. What worked much better was honesty, candour and total transparency – which is a much better tactic.
Having an effective crisis management plan in place is important and all outbound communicators need to be aware of the new procedures. But adding it to your employee terms and conditions without any proactive approach will not work when a crisis hits. Your policy amendment needs to be rolled out to each and every member of staff but what’s the best way to go about this?
Here are some considerations for implementing your crisis management plan.
- Educate everyone in the company. Offer half day training sessions tailored to everyone in the business, or offer online e-learning. Make the training mandatory and phase it in over several weeks to make sure you train everyone in the business from the C suite to the admin team. Everyone needs to be aware of the new policy and how it will affect them. Make sure your training rollout includes provision for new members of staff joining after the training has completed
- Set expectations. Although everyone throughout the business will not be using social media in their day job, they need to be aware of the impact that it might have on the business and they will need to become brand advocates offline. With the growth of your online brand presence they might get questions offline, and need to be able to know how to deal with any questions about policy, strategy etc.
- Roll the policy. Make sure everyone signs the amendment to their terms and conditions. If they are going to use social media, then they need to be trained first – so they can help and guide others who may be new to corporate blogging / social media activities etc.
- Put a process in place so that any outbound communications by anyone in the company is done with the knowledge of the line manager and HR.
- Find someone within the organisation to become the social media evangelist. Often the company doesn’t realise the commitment they have already invested in the company, so to having a great communicator on your side is invaluable. They will help communicate your strategy to the execs.
- Have a centralised list of people who do outbound communications so you know who to direct your communications to inside the office.
- If you have the resources, monitor each employee’s use of their chosen business social media channels to be able to proactively respond to any issues that may occur.
- Have an effective crisis management plan in place. Involve the Communications team and the PR team. Make this plan part of your social media policy.
- Make sure you have enough people who can listen to the outbound stream to detect if a crisis develops and act accordingly.
- Revisit the plan and make sure it’s refreshed often. Unlike the employee handbook, social media changes often so you need to be flexible.
Having an effective and workable plan in place will mitigate the issues if a crisis occurs. After all, the difference between a crisis and an emergency is that everyone is drilled in emergency procedures (think fire crews and cabin crew). With an effective crisis management plan and procedures in place, you can add your social media emergency drill to your standard implementation plan, drill everyone and make everyone aware of what they need to do when – or if the crisis arrives.