How to Put Together a Social Media Triage Response Plan

One of the most frequent questions that crisis managers get is, “how do I know what to respond to online?”  To respond to a negative online event successfully, you should have a plan that spells out what you will respond to, who will handle it, and what the response should entail. It’s called social media triage response and it’s part of the ten must-have elements your crisis plan should have, from the e-book Listen, Engage, Respond.

Pictured below is an excellent example of a triage response plan put together by a team led by Webster University’s former Director of Digital Marketing and Communications Patrick Powers.

webster univ triage chart

A social media response triage is an “if this, then that” flow chart that will help you make wise decisions on whether an event is escalating to the point where it needs a response. In an earlier post, I discussed why organizations need a triage plan for social media. It doesn’t need to be a lengthy document. A flow chart similar to the one above accompanied by a staffing protocol and messaging guidelines should suffice.

Effective triage response plans have several key elements:

  1. They are visual:  A lengthy process-oriented text document is too clunky for crisis triage. The strength of a flow chart is its ease of use. Staffing names and contact numbers should be embedded in the document so a quick glance can aid the crisis monitor when others need to be involved.
  2. They reflect organization culture: Despite the cry for transparency and authenticity in a crisis, the bottom line reality is every organization has a different comfort level when it comes to how much they want to share. Forcing leadership to put on a fake transparency face for a crisis is a huge mistake. Lead them down the road gently, but firmly. A team SWOT analysis up front will give everyone a good idea of just how open and transparent they want to be. I’ve found in my work that even the most reclusive client can be coached into responsible transparency at some level. Work to find out what the organization is comfortable with.
  3. They all begin with an assessment of the post/comment. The first step is discerning the message and sentiment of the poster/commenter. You do this by asking a series of questions that define which way on the chart you will head next. For instance, in the chart above Webster has decided that their first priority is whether the message is urgent enough to share with designated staff. The answer to that question determines their next step. Your first priority may be different. For instance, your first question might just address sentiment: “is it positive, negative, neutral, or an off-issue rant?”
  4. They all require trained monitors. During a crisis, your social media chatter needs to be managed in real-time by a trained crisis manager. This could be somebody in-house or outsourced, but they need to be trained for real-time crisis. Every organization should have an ongoing listening system in place. If in-house people are manning those online stations on a day-to-day basis, they should understand the same protocols and know the warning signs. Any comment, post, or response can blow up.
  5. They all require messaging strategy. When you do choose to respond, it should be thoughtful, personal, and on message. The last thing you need in social media, or any channel for that matter, is a thoughtless, knee-jerk response to a comment. Resist sounding corporate. It’s a red flag signaling insincerity.

Did I miss anything? Be sure and add your thoughts in the comments below. If you liked this, you can share it on your favorite social media channels using the share buttons below.

This article is part of a blog series on response strategies from the e-book Listen, Engage, Respond.