10 Must Have Elements for Including Social Media in Your Crisis Plan

Successful management of a crisis in social media is more about planning than anything else. Jeremiah Owyang’s extensive research on social media readiness showed that successful companies plan ahead. Here are ten elements you’ll want to include in your crisis communications plan:

  1. Current SWOT or risk analysis (done annually or quarterly if enterprise level)- helps you know what to look and listen for, and shows where your blind spots are.
  2. Organizational general communication goals and objectives – informs how you plan a triage or flow chart (see #7 below). This also helps you decide how your various social media channels will be used in crisis.
  3. Current staff and organizational chart that shows chain-of-command in a crisis.
  4. Key stakeholder groups segmented for content – who will you communicate with and what will you share in what order.
  5. Communication team/responsibilities and Command Center logisitcs for on- and offsite
  6. Designation of on-site and off-site spokespeople for communications and operations and media training calendar.
  7. Social media policy that includes the following:
    • Triage protocol and guidelines for posting to channels during a crisis including who, what, when, where, and how. Make sure to consult  your legal department to inform, but not control, this process. You can express sorrow and grief without implicating yourself.
    • List of all social media channels and admins associated with the organization including personal brand channels. Also, outline plans for how each of these should be used during a crisis, and which channels will be the main sources of public information. Remember—it’s not a good idea to broadcast the same news verbatim on every social media channel. Each channel has its own culture and should be used accordingly in crisis:
    • Facebook: family/living room where conversations happen. Direct people to a website or live blog for facts and announcements. Facebook may also become a place where people vent or grieve. It may seem awkward, but it’s a necessary part of the process. Let them do so—watch for trolls and make sure you have a posting policy in the public view (info section is a good place) that defines what you will and won’t allow. Delete comments and posts that violate that policy, but don’t delete comments that you simply don’t like. Moderate with care.
    • Twitter: newsroom used mainly for broadcasting and links to website or live blog. Be sure to monitor what people are saying to and about you here during a crisis and respond appropriately. Also, you may want to designate a hashtag as a conversation location.
    • Video channel: If your organization has a video channel on YouTube or Vimeo, you should have a discussion on how or if these channels will be used during a crisis. They can be a place where positive stories are told visually about how the crisis is being resolved or stories of people helped during the event. Be careful not to be promotional with video in a crisis, especially if human suffering is involved (lesson from Kentucky Fried Chicken).
    • Website: main source of all information. Houses press releases, contact information, and other necessary public information that doesn’t require interaction.
    • Live blog: functions as a real-time ongoing news source that can be aggregated and accessed in one place. Include any press releases, updates, and schedules for press conferences, etc.
    • Plans for the main website (dark site? Link to news page? Etc.)
    • Message templates for holding messages, press releases, and social media posting
    • Social media team responsibilities that include:
      • Monitoring and posting responsibilities by channel
      • Sentiment monitoring and tracking responsibilities
    • Protocol for message development—who signs off before it gets published.  Remember to let your legal department advise, but not guide, the message.

8. Guidelines and schedules for training, table top exercises/simulations, and post-crisis evaluation

9. Inventory of all communication channels and admins, and how they will be used including signage, website,  internal communications, etc.

10. Appendix of all forms, logs, and templates

I’d like to hear your thoughts on other elements you think need to be included.


An excerpt from the coming e-book, Listen, Engage, Respond: Crisis Communications in Real-Time by Chris Syme, principal at CKSyme.org. Watch the website for May release. Feature picture from Google images.

  • James-Your comment got me thinking I should adjust the title of this post so it isn’t misleading. Thanks for the heads up.

  • I totally agree, J.D. When we put together crisis communications plans, social is just a piece. Calling it a “social media crisis plan” in the article title, I think, draws more readers who are looking for help specifically with the digital media piece. I am not a fan of stand alone plans.

    When we did our research last year, we found that many organizations (majority) had crisis communications plans, but less than half addressed social/digital media in the plan. In our upcoming e-book, we address several elements of an effective plan including monitoring and listening as an ongoing best practice, plus having a communications style that fosters loyalty. Our desire is to get organizations thinking about the whole communications process as it relates to crisis, not just having a plan if a crisis hits. The thinking is, if you build loyalty and engagement now in your communications, you are filling the well of good reputation that you can draw from in a crisis. I’ve seen it work well for everyone from small business to large organizations.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  • Two thoughts, Chris:

    1) It seems that this is more of a general crisis management plan checklist than “social media.” (#6 — onsite and offsite?) If it is helpful, see my thoughts on this: http://www.jamesjdonnelly.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/12-Elements-of-Great-Crisis-Management-Playbooks.pdf

    2) I personally don’t believe there should be a “social media crisis plan.” There should be social media considerations woven throughout the broader reputation management crisis plan…perhaps with a few specific protocols. For more thoughts on this, check out the following: http://www.jamesjdonnelly.com/2010/03/analyzing-five-commonly-held-beliefs-about-2-0-crises/

    – J.D.