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How Your Social Media Policy Can Help Prevent A Crisis

This is the third in a series on how to include social media in your crisis communications plans. Part one introduced the five components that are necessary to include social media in your crisis communications plan, and part two covered the basics of online monitoring to prevent a crisis. In this part, we’ll tackle how to put together a social media policy that works with your crisis communications strategy to help prevent an issue from blowing up in social media.

In the first part of this series, I listed five necessary components you need in place to help prevent a social media crisis. Taken from two pieces of research my company did, they are:

  1. Social media monitoring system
  2. Social media policy/guidelines
  3. Social media management system (SMMS)
  4. Registration or affiliation of all brand social media accounts
  5. In-house social media community manager

iStock_000019842702XSmallMost brands have a general social media policy housed in their communications plan. If you don’t have one, that is where you need to start. There are many good resources out there on developing a general social media policy. The scope of this article relates to the section within that policy that addresses how social media will be used in a crisis, not generally.

Depending on how deep you want to go in your policy, you’ll want to be sure that it integrates with all the elements of your crisis communications plan. I caution you not to separate out the social media pieces of your communications plan. This can make social media procedures an afterthought in a crisis, and slow down its effectiveness in a real-time event. Make sure everyone understands the value social media has for disseminating real-time information in a crisis and get your social media procedures integrated with the rest of your crisis communications planning.

Successful management of a crisis is more about planning than anything else.  Here are ten elements that will help you build a successful crisis communications policy or set of guidelines. Social media is a key player in ever element.

  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 and opportunities are. Your analysis should include an evaluation of all your social media channels as well as traditional media relations.
  2. Crisis communication goals and message templates –Informs your response plan and how you plan a triage response system. 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. This can be based on NIMS (National Incident Management System) or a similar system. I recommend being familiar with NIMS and adopting the protocols so you can be familiar if you have a crisis that involves emergency response personnel such as police or fire fighters. Who will be responsible for managing your social media channels in a crisis?
  4. Key stakeholder groups segmented for content – who will you communicate with and what will you share, in what order? What channels will you use?
  5. Communication team/responsibilities and command center logistics for onsite and offsite. If your crisis involves a venue emergency, will you be using social media off-site? If so, who is in charge and what are their responsibilities?
  6. Designation of on-site and off-site spokespeople for communications and operations. Include a media training calendar for spokesperson training—a must.
  7. Triage protocol and guidelines for posting to channels during a crisis including who, what, when, where, and how. I would recommend using your regular triage response chart, if you have one, and re-purposing it specifically for crisis. Use the same graphic template so users understand its relationship to the original document. It may not have the same responsibility hierarchy, but using the same physical template will help everyone navigate it easily.
  8. List of all social media accounts and admins associated with each, including personal brand accounts. 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.
  9. Plans for the main website. Do you have a dark site ready for an emergency? If not, do you have gateway graphics ready to go for your home page that will link to an emergency information page? Do you have a general emergency Facebook cover photo and Twitter cover photo ready? These can have phone numbers or website  and other URLs listed that people can be directed to for information. It’s easier to have these done ahead of time than to create them on the fly–one less thing to distract you in the heat of battle.
  10. In-crisis monitoring protocol and report templates for leadership.
  11. Guidelines and schedules for training, table top exercises, and post-crisis evaluation.
  12. Inventory of all non-digital communication channels and how they will be used including signage, campus message boards, internal communications, and any other touch points the organization uses.
  13. Media relations guidelines: how will press conferences and media requests be handled?
  14. Appendix of all forms, logs, and templates

Some of these pieces are more important than others, depending on the crisis itself. But social media readiness requires development of all of the above. You never know when you will need any of these pieces. But the reality is, when you do need them, you’ll be prepared. And that preparation may help you prevent a crisis or mitigate one faster.

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