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.

13 Responses

  1. […] Also known as a triage response chart, it lends clarity to the process of if and when to respond. Here is another response chart example from Webster […]

  2. […] resources of trained people to handle a crisis online, get outside help from an experienced agency. Here’s a link on how to set up a triage response plan. If you find yourself in a crisis without one, this should be one of your first […]

  3. […] and needs–do you have answers? You may want to train an internal corps of ambassadors and establish a triage responses system for this option. Another option is to build “office hours” live chats where customers can get a […]

  4. Internet Reputation Pro

    Well done. This reinforces a lot of what I was thinking about this topic as well. I hope you return to this subject with updates, “best practices”, and more insight on this subject in the near future.

  5. […] watching. Here is some information on how to set up a basic monitoring system. Make sure you have a social media triage system set up as well. Who is going to handle […]

  6. […] If you’re not confident on this point, you might create a crisis out of something that isn’t. Remember, every negative comment does not need a response. Two basic operations will give you a good start here: monitor your online brand mentions in real-time, and get everyone on the same page about response strategy. A triage response system will help. […]

  7. […] Develop a triage response chart and issues escalation procedure. Who should respond to fan complaints? How do you tell if an issue is escalating? Make sure you […]

  8. […] Develop a triage response chart and issues escalation procedure. Who should respond to fan complaints? How do you tell if an issue is escalating? Make sure you […]

  9. […] Develop a triage response chart and issues escalation procedure. Who should respond to fan complaints? How do you tell if an issue is escalating and needs a reply? […]

  10. […] triage response system for handling the high volume of negative […]

  11. […] 2. A triage response plan that includes the definition of a negative event; when, if, and how it will be dealt with; and a chain of command that illustrates who will answer what. It should also be accompanied by a message template. See this example. […]

  12. […] You can also have a triage system set up around Hootsuite with multiple admins (a subscription fee is needed for multiple admins). If you’re monitoring for crisis or a negative event, you should check more often, and have your Google Alerts sent in real-time.  Also, I believe that sentiment analysis is an important part of monitoring, but that’s another topic for another day. […]

  13. […] Triage response plan and monitoring procedures including who is in charge of what, when, and where. […]

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