You know what a traditional crisis plan is. Your company has one and you understand why it’s important. However, does your company have protocol to handle an online crisis? The digital world has changed the way we receive and discuss information. I has also alerted the way people communicate about your brand. Why is it important to employ a social media crisis plan and how do you go about implementing one?

What’s the first step?

Create a presence online. Use social media to engage in conversation with or offer support to customers. Utilize Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, a blog and/or another social media outlet to create discussions. Engage customers by answering questions or concerns, addressing rumors and correcting misinformation. This engagement creates credibility and approachability. Should a crisis arise in the future, this already-established presence will allow you to handle issues with a familiar voice on a familiar medium.

Listening is key.

Create a responsive social media plan through listening. This means setting up a monitoring system on the social media sites your company uses. Take advantage of social media organizers like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to better control your social media presence. Search keywords and hashtags via Twitter to track discussions. Sign up for Google Alerts or subscribe to Radian6 or another similar monitoring software. It’s also important to make it someone’s job to pay attention and be aware of the online conversation that surrounds your brand, whether good or bad. If something unfavorable occurs to your brand in the digital world, who in your company is in charge of identifying a potential crisis and alerting others? Is someone listening at all times? If online content is being monitored in real-time then it will be easier to respond to a crisis in real-time. Develop these procedures and treat them as seriously as offline protocol.

Be ready.

The ever-shifting nature of social media conversations requires companies to be on a constant state of readiness. An online crisis plan is more than listening and monitoring. An organization must also be ready to respond quickly and efficiently. Social media management requires you to be ready to create multi-media content. Which social media platforms need the most attention? What is the best outlet to respond with? If there is a potential crisis developing on Twitter, then its most likely that Twitter is where you need to respond. To ensure your response is relevant, it’s important to go to the source of the negative attention and engage with people there.

Follow up.

Responding to an online crisis quickly and efficiently is not necessarily the end-all-fix-all solution. Address the cause of the crisis, whether it be a negative comment, misinformation or even employee error (remember Domino’s social media crisis?). Depending on the extent of the crisis, you may not be able to fix the problem in just a day or two. Even if the solution isn’t clear, it’s still important to let people know how you are handling the issue. Update the digital world by tweeting or posting about what steps will be taken to correct the problem. Share your plan for handling the crisis. Communicate that plan, and then follow through with it. Even when the initial crisis is done, continue to monitor and react as needed.

Reward.

Not everything in the digital world has to be a threat to your brand or company image. That being said, a successful brand should also reward good conversation. Twitter, in particular, makes it so easy for customers to have direct conversations with brands and companies. Show these people that you are listening and appreciate their business, loyalty and positive attention.

In the end, many of the principles of a traditional crisis plan hold true for an online crisis plan. Manage issues quickly, accurately and with care.

Jodi Osmond recently graduated summa cum laude from UW-Milwaukee with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and media communication and certification in digital arts and culture. As a social media and community engagement intern at Allée, she is eager to continue growing professionally while embracing her passion for public relations and social media.

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