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Social media in a crisis

28 August 2015

We're living in an age when an organisation's reputation can be made or broken very quickly online even more so during a crisis. So it's imperative that social media becomes a central focus for your communications team during such an event.

Here are 10 tips to make sure social media works for, rather than against you, when it all kicks off.

  1. Be quick, be proactive: Social media outlets do not depend on the news cycle – you can post immediately. This gives you a chance to take control of the online conversation from the very beginning of a potential crisis, even if you can only say that an incident has occurred, that you are looking into it, and that you will keep people regularly informed.
  2. Keep your social media team up to date: Don’t forget about the social media team, especially if they do not sit within the communications team. It's important that they are briefed and up to date on developments – especially as they may often be the first point of contact between your organisation and media or other stakeholders.
  3. Speak with one voice: Twitter users might contact your chief executive or senior team directly. The organisation needs to speak consistently about a crisis so tweets coming from individual accounts need to adhere to agreed lines and messaging.
  4. Maintain consistent messaging: Similarly, it is essential that your messaging on social media remains in line with all other media or stakeholder communications coming out of your organisation.
  5. Focus your efforts and identify suitable social media channels: You may need to use more than one social media outlet – communicating perhaps with opinion formers and the media on Twitter and with service users on Facebook. You should keep a consistency in the messaging and timing of your posts across different channels, and target your resources to the channels used by your audiences.
  6. Drive audiences to a holding statement/official response: You will not have the capacity to respond to every individual tweet, but you can use social media to guide people towards a single source of information where you can articulate your position. This could be a holding statement or an official response/Q&A on your website.
  7. Use your legal experts: Remember that everything you say on Twitter is public. If your crisis communications work requires signing off by your legal experts, remember that you must apply the same legal advice to social media outputs as you would to any other statements.
  8. Set the right tone: As with all your external communications in a crisis, your tone on social media should be informative, helpful and convey that you are doing what you can to rectify the situation – you should never be defensive in your response.
  9. Maintain engagement post-crisis: Social media can be an important means of beginning the process of rebuilding and re-establishing the reputation of your organisation. Once the crisis is over, don’t stop engaging with those who contacted you. Keep people updated on positive progressions within your organisation and remind them that they are important to you.
  10. Update your processes: Make sure you do an internal review of the crisis once it’s over, so that your social media guidelines and protocol can be revised and improved ahead of any future incidents.

This article is an extract from CharityComms’ Best Practice Guide to Crisis Communications for Charities. Download your free copy

Helen Wharton

associate director, Champollion

Helen has been associate director of independent communications consultancy Champollion since November 2011. Previously she was head of media at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre and UK director of Media Consulta UK.