The #crisis communications contingency plan was in full force for PricewaterhouseCoopers at the Academy Awards, as the wrong film was mistakenly announced as the Best Picture winner. Late into the night, senior level executives scrambled to ascertain exactly what happened – and who was responsible. By the following morning, the U.K. accounting goliath released a statement, admitting “human error” was to blame for the mishap, but not before social media had run wild with memes and GIFs mocking the event.
And, while PwC’s Twitter handle had mentioned the Oscars earlier Sunday evening, it made no mention of the gaffe after it happened, nor did it publish the statement produced by PwC leadership. We’re curious as to why social media didn’t play a larger role in the firm’s crisis communications response.
An organization’s social media platforms are reliable and necessary sources of information for the public, company stakeholders and reporters. When a company pushes its news directly to consumers, the risk of vital information getting lost in translation is minimal. But what if the unexpected happens, like the Best Picture mix-up?
This was the focus of our Crisis Communications and Social Media workshop with our friends at social media marketing firm ChatterBlast this past December, where we spoke with attendees about how to develop strategies to deal with a crisis before it happens. Positive or negative, planned or not, the smart money is on those who get in front of the issue. Here are a few steps on how to mitigate risk and get back to business.
- Plan, Plan, Plan:
Developing a succinct plan of action won’t deter the public from additional inquiry, but it’s the first step toward successfully managing and containing a situation.
First, you must audit your communications process. If an issue were to hit, it only takes the public a second to seek you out on social media and demand answers. Who is monitoring your social channels? How quickly will content that needs addressing be flagged for response? Whose job is it to manage this process?
Also who needs to be involved in assessing the situation, crafting and approving a response? Who is part of your crisis action team? Depending on the size of your organization, this could span multiple departments—from marketing to product management, or legal to information security, those who best understand the problem at hand will give you the most relevant information so that you can begin to prepare your messaging materials.
As part of the plan, it’s also wise to develop a contact database of social influencers as well as journalists (often they can be one-and-the-same). Having this information at the ready will save time and stress when you’re in the heat of an issues management moment.
- Be First & Factual:
What is it that you want to say? Both messaging and voice are paramount when managing a problem. Without a succinct, clear, genuine response, you may lose the opportunity to take control of the situation, which opens the door for others to speak for you. And then you’re back on your heels in a defensive mode. Even if all you can say at the outset of the situation is that you’re aware of the matter and are taking immediate steps to determine what happened and will report back shortly, that’s better than going dark.
Once your strategy is in motion, you must actively monitor and listen to the reaction on social media. Tune into a variety of audiences – your everyday consumers, reporters, and your own customer service and sales teams. Gauge the sentiment that’s circulating around the web. How many times was your organization mentioned? Out of all of those, what’s the sentiment? Positive? Negative? Neutral? Online tools, such as Google Alerts, Sprout Social and Brandwatch, are designed to make this process much simpler and will help you determine who your allies are and who you may need to seek out to facilitate additional discussion.
By using the steps above as your guide, you can develop a crisis communications plan that will prepare you to handle the impact that social media can have. With the amount of time and energy that you spend on building your organization’s brand, don’t let a misspoken word – or a misplaced envelope – derail you.
Interested in adding a social media crisis communications (issues management) contingency plan to your business? We can help! Drop us a note at email@example.com.
We are Devine + Partners, communications and content experts who specialize in public relations, issues management (crisis communications), content marketing and digital communications.