How To Include Social Media In Your Crisis Communications Plan: Part One

Crisis communications plans are not new. They are a staple in most organizations. But judging from my Inbox, many organizations are searching for information on how to include social media contingencies in their plans. Over the next couple weeks, I am going to share a simple, straight-forward plan on how to incorporate social media channels into your crisis communications plan. We’ll start with the components you need to succeed.

Begin at the beginning

crisis picCKSyme Media Group conducted two national surveys in 2012 and 2013 on how universities and athletic departments are prepared to use social media in a crisis. Those studies produced five takeaways that every organization needs to have in place in order to have an effective crisis communications plan:

1. Implement a social media monitoring system. A social media monitoring system will help you keep track of what is being said about your brand in the social media universe, alert you to issues on the horizon, and help you gauge public understanding of, and sentiment around an issue. There are many good social media management systems (SMMS) that include monitoring as a component. An adequate monitoring system can be pieced together with little or no cost using several applications. This list of tools from Tripwire Magazine includes some low cost tools and some that are free. Jeremiah Owyang of Web Strategy has put together a more extensive and research-based review of enterprise level tools here. The important concept is to build a monitoring system that tracks mentions of your brand in online media, keywords related to your brand, and principle personal brands as well. The system can be as simple or as elaborate as you have time, resources, and people for. But experts agree a monitoring system is primary, and the sooner the better.

2. Develop a social media policy/guide. There is a general misunderstanding that a social media policy is a prohibitive document. The best social media policies operate as guide rails that empower people to use social media channels responsibly in a way that connects the organization’s brand to its fans. In Owyang’s research on social media readiness, every top-rated company in the report had a social media policy. Those companies with social media policies were also the most successful in crisis and reputation events. The policy should include a training/on-going education element.  There are many good examples that can be found with a simple Google search. If you’re starting from scratch, I recommend looking at several in your sector and a few in different sectors and then taking out elements that will work for you. Putting together a policy is not an overnight exercise and should be a by-product of input from several key voices including legal. It is also important to remember that your guidelines must fit your organization’s culture and not stretch the boundaries of your time, resources, and people. We’ll talk in detail about this piece in a future blog post.

3. Implement a social media management system. A social media management system (SMMS) should have multiple functions that can facilitate monitoring, publishing, lead and conversion tracking, measurement, and customer relationship management, depending on what your social media goals are. The system should include your monitoring needs, and at its most basic level, it should allow for multiple accounts and administrators to post and manage to your social media channels. Hootsuite is an example of a basic free SMMS. Prices of paid services can range from ten dollars a month to thousands. I recommend an organization invest in a system. Make it the home base of all your digital communications.

4. Establish registration or affiliation of branded social media accounts. Organizations should develop a training program or best practice guidelines for anyone representing the brand in the social media space. As a part part of that training,  establish a database of administrators and passwords that will be held by a community manager. This allows the organization to remove old accounts, rescue a hacked account,  or manage any brand-related accounts in an emergency. The majority of reporting institutions in our surveys did not have administrative rights for all social media channels representing the university. The majority also did not have a plan for how those accounts should be used in the event of a crisis. Both these components are necessary for your crisis plan.

5. Establish a social media community manager. Even though this last takeaway may seem redundant, many reporting institutions in our research did not have one single supervisory department for all campus social media. This does not imply that one department should handle all campus social media, but that there should be a centralized resource that acts as a hub to the brand’s “spokes” so there is continuity in branding and messaging, especially in the event of a crisis.

Next, we’ll tackle how to set up a basic monitoring system. Email me here if you have a question or comment or add your thoughts in the comments.