Most brands, thankfully, will not have a horsemeat or a Deepwater Horizon moment.
But any brand could experience some form of social media crisis or backlash, and many will. Not every crisis will be as epic as Tesco’s and BP’s. Many will cause far less damage. But every brand needs to understand what, for them, constitutes an acceptable level of potential reputational damage.
What does a social media crisis look like for your brand?
A clear idea of your brand’s appetite for risk will help when it comes to differentiating between issues and potential crises as they crop up in social.
But it’s not easy. Prediction is inexact and no two crises are the same.
Further much crisis management theory that has informed brands’ existing crisis processes does not take account of a still rather new environment. Many make the mistake of simply adding social as another channel for message delivery. But social media has changed crisis more fundamentally than this.
There are many factors to consider, now that social is mainstream
Your stakeholders will not accept broadcast messages in blind faith anymore. They expect transparency and dialogue. Search is critical – what goes online stays online – the impact of a crisis is extended and memories are kept alive. Those who would criticise you have the same tools as you – instant easy access to a mass audience online – and they probably have more time to come up with their campaign than you do.
But the facet that is hardest to deal with, at the point of trying to diagnose a crisis, is the sheer speed at which a situation can escalate.
How to handle the considerable pressure of an accelerating backlash online is one of the most valuable things you get to rehearse in a social media crisis simulation. The pressure of the onslaught is the most likely reason an incident team fails to follow their well-drilled process.
So how do you know if a crisis is brewing?
Really, often, only you will know. External experts will get you so far – but you need to develop your own experience and learning by building a living bank of knowledge.
This means keeping track of potential issues: how situations build up online, the investigations you undertook, the diagnosis decisions you came to, the response steps you took and what happened as a result.
Some situations will build up into major incidents, but many will simply blow over. All are useful for building a picture of what crisis does and, critically, doesn’t look like for your brand. And a clear picture of what worked before can be invaluable when you need to defuse a heightening incident.
You can fast track your understanding. We advocate keeping a private library of social media #fails. When brands get it wrong online, you can pull up to the front row to watch how the situation is handled. And there is no end of social media commenters who will analyse incidents. Critique these as you build your own perspective.
Some resources to help you short cut your knowledge building
- Categorising social media risk (Altimeter)
- Categorising social media brand backlash (Altimeter)
- A Typology of Social Media Crises (ESSEC Business School)
- Types of crisis and market impact (Freshfield Bruckhaus Deringer)
By the way, if you are about to revise your social media crisis plan, there are many templates on the web to inspire you. Just be sure to tailor and test anything you might use to ensure it works for your brand.