Designing a Social Media Policy That Actually Works in a Crisis

In my current series on developing response strategies in crisis communications, I shared ten essential elements that your crisis response plan needs to include.  One problem with many crisis plan “kits” is that tactics can be so template-oriented that they often fail to work smoothly in a crisis. When it comes to designing a social media policy that works for all operations including crisis management, the key ingredient is flexibility.

One of the first questions I ask people looking for a social media crisis response plan is, “do you have a social media policy?” If not, that’s where we start. If you build your policy well, it will guide you in putting together many other pieces of your response strategy. Your social media policy should be complete, but not long, precise, but not limiting, and most of all, it should reflect your organizational culture. One policy should cover all aspects of a brand’s communications. You may have separate tactics for crisis and for promotion, but your policy should be the same for both. A practical social media policy that can work in a crisis should include the following:

  1. Purpose: What is the purpose of social media in the organization? Are you building and growing a community? If so, then you can’t disappear from social media channels in a crisis. Are you using social media strictly to inform or broadcast? Then, your social media protocol in a crisis will reflect that. Be real. Don’t paint an idealistic picture here. Be true to yourself and your comfort level, or you will have a crisis during your crisis trying to implement procedures that don’t reflect how you do social on a daily basis.
  2. Rules of Engagement:This section includes:
    1. Responsible use information including protection of proprietary information, copyright, permissions, transparency and disclosure, ethics, compliance,  and other guidelines for individual users designated to be present in social media channels on behalf of the organization.
    2. Guidelines for determining when a personal account belongs to the company.
    3. Triage response plan and monitoring procedures including who is in charge of what, when, and where.
    4. A complete data base of all social media channels that belong to the organization including admins, approved users, logins and passwords. This includes any personal branding accounts that are under the organization’s umbrella. This information is kept by the community manager.
    5. Guidelines for training and authorization procedures to use social media on behalf of the organization.
  3. Clear consequeces for violating the policy.
  4. An FAQ and tips on how to use social media well.
  5. A procedural guide for how social media channels will be used in the event of a crisis.

These guidelines are general enough to fit the culture of any organization, whether you allow everyone to be a social media ambassador or whether you have a more conservative, controlled approach. What did I miss? Add your thoughts in the comments. Do you have a social media policy? If so, how is it working?


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  • cksyme

    Thanks for the question. First let me say that any crisis response depends on the individual situation. It’s tough to design formulaic response to questions like this because each crisis has a life of its own. The best way to determine whether something needs a response is to have a plan made ahead of time, or a triage system that tracks sentiment of an “issue.” An operations crisis is in a different category than a reputation crisis. Each organization needs to determine what the trigger points are for their responses. If you have a customer service operation channel, that should always be active. But each organization can only do what they have time, people, and resources for. I’ve found that most people do not have a monitoring system in place, which would take care of most of these types of situations. If you are monitoring chatter around your brand and understand sentiment escalation, you can tell when issues need answering. Don’t ignore people. But also know that everything does not need a response–even a complaint. Negative comments make organizations nervous, but they are part of daily operations. Sometimes people just want to vent. Is it a question that needs answering or just a comment you need to take into consideration and pass along? A lot of it is common sense. And the short answer to your question is, yes–you need to be present on your social media channels, but that is only one piece of your social media strategy. More importantly, you need to be aware of when and where issues can arise. In many crises I deal with, the organizations had warning signs that a situation was brewing, but they ignored them. You can’t stop an errant employee from going on a Facebook page at 2 a.m. and cussing out a customer by being there 24-7. Those are different issues and you just need to have a response plan for those kinds of events, and deal with them when they happen. Hope this helps.

  • Krishna Prasad

    Hello Chris,

    I have few questions on the crisis management?
    If a crisis arises during the non operating hours (including weekends, public/national holidays), of the organization and the agency that handles the social media accounts of the organization, what should be the response process? Is it necessary to have an agency that will monitor the organizations’ social media accounts 24*7?

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