At the latest PRCA #digibites event this week, a group of PR practitioners were put through their paces in real-time social media crisis simulations.

We were split into teams and tasked with responding to a social media crisis for a pet food brand.  

Using a number of fictional social networks we attempted to stop the flow of negative information caused by a disgruntled employee who had just left the company and uploaded a less than complementary video.

It was a fantastic opportunity to put our PR and reputation management skills to the test in a live scenario and brought home to me a number of key learnings for social media crisis management:

1. Resource 

We all know that social media is real-time but when things kick-off the pace can really take you by surprise.

We were in teams of five last night and we found it challenging to read, let alone reply to all the tweets and messages that were being posted.

Being able to ramp up your (trained) resource to cope in situations is therefore vital. And it is amazing the level of concentration that is needed, so rotate your team and give community managers regular breaks.

2. Have a strategy for getting the word out 

Social media brings the consumer dimension into a crisis situation in a very visible and noisy way.

It’s easy to pay attention to the the deluge of tweets and Facebook comments and ignore other stakeholders as a result.

Make sure you have a plan to deal with internal stakeholders as well as the traditional media alongside trying to mitigate the social storm (which can obviously also influence these other groups).

3. The Twitter press statement 

The media’s obsession with Twitter means that any tweet from a company is essentially a press statement.

So while drafting long, in-depth media announcements still have a place, it’s often the short, pithy 140 character update that can have most impact.

4. Right message, right channel 

Building on the previous two points, it is crucial to know your audience and speak to them in the right way. Having a unified tone across all channels is important but you must also build in flexibility.

Sound too corporate and stuffy on Twitter and your message will do more harm than good.

It is more important than ever to have a skilled team of community managers that know how to communicate on social channels and empower them to do their jobs by giving clear direction and instruction.

5. Prepare for transparency 

Our team were clear that we wanted to be transparent and open in the way we communicated to the outside world. That was easier said than done though.

Gathering information from inside the organisation to support your position takes time and, with the stream of updates showing no sign of waiting, the conundrum was how much to say without concrete information to back things up.

Silence can be a powerful tool but leave it too long and the ‘crowd’ will define your message for you. Get all the facts as quickly as possible so you can plan your message and your course of action.

This was an incredibly useful exercise to really think about what you would do in a crisis situation and some of things that need to be thought about in advance. Crises can come from anywhere so, as a first step, brainstorm the various scenarios and put in place strategies to cope. And then put them to the test!

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