Social media has become an essential part of doing business, particularly during the pandemic. In fact, 60% of marketers create at least one piece of content each day. And since it’s important to meet customers where they are, most organizations are devoting more time (and less restrictive budgets) to social media management.
But although good news travels fast on these platforms, that’s doubly true for bad news. Social media is a powerful tool — and it can easily be used against you. If you don’t know how to effectively manage your business’s social media, you could easily (and even unknowingly) hurt your brand with a bad response to a crisis. In some cases, you might even be able to trace the crisis itself back to your poor social media management.
Whether you’re dealing with a data breach, shipping delays, website issues, or a PR nightmare, it’s important that you know how to address the topic on social media in the right way. Here are just a few crisis management dos and don’ts to follow to remember before you post.
Do… Have a Plan in Place
If your small business has been fortunate enough to experience smooth sailing thus far, you might not be inclined to prepare for the worst. But you absolutely need to have a plan in place for a possible upset. Social media needs to play a part in your crisis plan, whether you’re preparing for the second wave of COVID or you want to make sure you know how to respond to issues with your online ordering system. Remember that social media is essential to your brand marketing strategy and that it can’t be treated as an afterthought. In fact, customers might be more inclined to visit your social media channels during a crisis in order to receive the most updated information. You can’t wing it when it comes to your strategy — and crisis management needs to fit into it. While you might not know ahead of time what you’ll want to say, you should establish a plan of action that everyone will follow.
Don’t… Wait Too Long to Respond
Although cybersecurity incidents resulted in business losses of $45 billion in 2018, you’d be surprised by just how many organizations fail to do the right thing when a breach occurs. Businesses have been known to delay telling their customers for several weeks — and that can really harm your brand perception. If you experience something like a cybersecurity breach or an important partnership with a vendor has fallen through unexpectedly, you need to get ahead of the problem. While it might not seem “professional” to tell the world about the issue on social media, you do need to be forthcoming when an issue directly impacts your customers. Although you should wait until you have the necessary data before posting in order to reduce the risk of spreading misinformation, you should aim to respond to a crisis as quickly as possible. Don’t wait until your silence becomes deafening; you should be proactive and accountable when posting on social media.
Do… Lead With Empathy and Transparency
This is a great opportunity to show your customers how much you care about their experience. Social media users can tell when a brand responds in a way that seems insincere or like they’re trying to cover something up. While you shouldn’t air your business’s dirty laundry on social media, you do need to be transparent about what’s happening and show your empathetic side. If you’re able to express how much your customers mean to your business and let them know you’re doing everything possible to resolve the issue, most of them will be willing to stand by you. But if they sense you’re hiding something or you respond in a way that feels cold, they’re not going to stick around.
Don’t… Shift Blame or Go On the Defensive
In that same vein, it’s important to own your mistakes. Whether you’re trying to mitigate the effects of a damning expose or you haven’t been able to keep up with customer demand, you need to be accountable for the business choices you’ve made. That means you should never try to blame others in your social media posts or argue with those who leave comments and send direct messages to your account. This may be easier said than done, but it’s essential advice for anyone managing social media for a brand. It might seem scary to take ownership of those errors, but customers will typically respect an accountable brand more than a brand that plays the blame game. As long as you’re learning from your mistakes (and are able to translate that into action), it’s generally better — liability issues aside — to admit that you fell short than to insist it’s someone else’s fault.
Do… Communicate and Listen to Feedback
If your small business is experiencing any type of crisis that needs to be addressed on social media, one of the first things you need to do is communicate with your team. It’s vital that everyone is on the same page and that every team member — whether or not they deal directly with the public — understands the proper response to this event. This can ensure your messaging is consistent and that your strategy will be executed as successfully as possible. Once that happens, you’ll be in a better position to hear feedback from both team members and customers. Don’t treat these interactions as a personal attack. Most of the time, people are well-meaning and want to see your brand succeed. That doesn’t mean that the customer is always right, but having a chance to engage with customers directly on these platforms is priceless. Don’t squander the opportunity to get feedback on the situation, as well as on what you might be doing well.
Don’t… Ignore or Try to Profit From Mistakes
One of the worst things you can do during a crisis is to pretend like everything is completely normal. You might want to steer clear of posting anything on social media if yours is one of the 40% to 50% of marriages that end in divorce in the U.S., but that same idea doesn’t necessarily apply to businesses going through a crisis. There may be certain situations on which you can’t comment for legal reasons, but unless your attorney has advised you not to proactively post about a given situation, you should not try to ignore it. Sooner or later, it will likely come out — and if customers realize you’ve ignored the problem, they’ll feel like they’ve been duped. Another scenario to avoid is an attempt to profit off of a crisis. The most obvious example here is when some businesses attempted to make money off consumer fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there have also been instances wherein brands attempted to take advantage of other causes or crises in order to sell more products or services. On social media, you should aim to be upfront and steer clear of anything that could malign your reputation as a trustworthy brand.
Although this won’t tell you absolutely everything there is to know about social media crisis management for small businesses, this post can serve as a great starting point. With any luck, you’ll never have to use your crisis plan — but if the worst does occur, you’ll know what to do.
“Devin is a writer and an avid reader. When she isn’t lost in a book or writing, she’s busy in the kitchen trying to perfect her slow cooker recipes. You can find her poetry published in The Adirondack Review and Cartridge Lit.”