Content marketing is appealing because it creates conversations. You use the same platforms to share your content, engage in conversations with your audience, and share your thoughts with your audience. That’s quite different from traditional advertising where you simply broadcast your message to a passive audience. Content marketing is dynamic. It’s also a bit unpredictable.
Because you can’t control everything that is said on your social media platforms, or how people will react to what you say, a crisis is a real possibility. Here are a few examples of how this might unfold:
- You share a humorous video without double checking the original source. It turns out that the creator is a controversial blogger known for making hateful and bigoted remarks. Several audience members respond with anger.
- A disgruntled employee decides to air your company’s dirty laundry in a very public way on social media. They tag the business’ social media account in that post. It goes viral.
- You make a social media post using what you think is a harmless phrase. You quickly learn that it’s quite offensive.
- You release a new app to your customers. There’s a significant bug that causes people a lot of frustration and inconvenience. Many people post critical remarks about that to your Facebook page.
- You run out of stock after hyping a big sale for months. Your inbox and social media feed are full of angry posts.
The truth is that at some point you are going to face some sort of controversy that plays out on your social media feeds. It’s imperative that you have a plan in place to deal with that when it happens.
- Know When to go into Crisis Mode
Know When to go into Crisis Mode
Not every complaint or controversy needs to kick off your crisis plan. What constitutes a crisis will depend on your business, your relationship with your customers, and a variety of other factors. Here are some things that you’ll want to consider as you build your crisis management plan.
- Sometimes the simplest solution will suffice. Deleting a controversial tweet or simply issuing an apology may be plenty to stop a controversy in its tracks.
- Overreacting can turn a mild issue into a crisis. On the other hand, an insufficient reaction can seem as if you aren’t taking an issue seriously.
- Transparency may or may not be the best way to go.
These points may bring up more questions than they answer. That’s the reality of this kind of crisis management. It’s not a science, it’s an art. It’s also quite subjective. Hopefully, by following the remaining tips here, and conducting a thoughtful analysis of your business, you can create a content marketing crisis plan that works for you.
Name The Key Players and Create a ‘Food Chain’
If your business does face a crisis, who will be the decision makers? What executive will take that midnight phone call if things go very badly? Who will be authorized to speak to the media if that becomes a necessity?
As things unfold, you may decide to shut down all social media access for everyone but a select few. Which team members will be a part of that select few? Finally, each person who is authorized to handle a crisis should have a contact person, up to the management structure whom they contact when they recognize that the situation needs additional oversight.
Once the crisis is over, every person involved in handling it should participate in a post-mortem. There, they can discuss what worked what didn’t. Those insights can be used to improve crisis handling procedures in the future.
Create a Plan That Emphasizes Prevention
You may not be able to predict every single event. An issue with one of your products can come by surprise. So can an employee ‘going rogue’. Still, there are some things that you can do to help you avoid a crisis. This includes:
- Engaging in reputation management proactively. Set up Google alerts for your business name, and monitor social media sites for mentions. This will help you to learn of any issues or controversies sooner than later.
- Pay attention to news events. By being aware, you can determine whether or not something warrants a comment from your team, or when it’s time to make some adjustments to your usual ‘tone’ on social media.
- Monitor your comments section. This is often where controversy begins to rumble.
Social media crises often begin as a customer service situation gone awry. If you make sure that your customer-facing staff is well trained, that they have the resources they need, and that you have adequate staffing, they’ll be able to provide better experiences to your customers.
The same goes for your website and security infrastructure. Take care of those, and you’ll avoid issues relating to privacy violations, website outages, and issues with the purchasing process.
Create Clear Policies and Standards For Posting on Social Media
This is another technique that helps you to avoid a crisis in the first place. However, it’s important enough to warrant its own tip. All too often, a social media crisis is the result of having poor or nonexistent policies relating to posting on social media. That along with failing to control who has access to the ‘keys’ to your company’s social media accounts is a recipe for trouble.
Here are some guidelines that can help:
- Create an approval process that allows social media posts to be reviewed for content, accuracy, and appropriateness before they are published.
- Instruct employees not to argue with or match wits with disgruntled customers on social media.
- Establish a zero tolerance policy for hate speech, threats, and bigotry on the part of any of your staff members.
- Provide staff members with a contact person to go to if they believe a crisis is pending.
- It’s not reasonable to expect employees not to express their opinions on their private social media feeds. However, it is reasonable to expect them to make it clear that their thoughts are not a representation of any official stance of the policy of your company.
- Educate all employees on company messaging.
- Give clear instructions to employees to follow when there is a crisis.
- Make sure that employees know how to respond to brand mentions. Give clear guidelines for both positive and negative remarks.
- Ensure that all employees properly credit sources should they curate content to your social media accounts.
- Encourage employees to act as positive, brand representatives on social media.
If you have any doubts or concerns, have a lawyer look over your social media policy. They will be able to inform you if anything you are considering is too overreaching. You want to balance protecting your brand without stepping on your workers’ toes.
Remember that accountability is key. Team members should know what the consequences will be if they violate policy. At the same time, you should also establish that there are resources for employees to use if they find themselves embroiled in a controversy. It’s better to have an employee let you know that something they said, perhaps unintentionally, could cause an issue than to have them ignore the issue or attempt to hide it.
Finally, you’ll want to establish how you will respond publicly as well as privately. Depending on your policies and the severity of the situation, your response could range from a statement that the employee involved is being retrained, to backing your employee, to affirming that the employee has been disciplined or terminated.
Build Good Will and Knowledge Through Diversity
Workforce diversity is absolutely on point here. First, your audience will hold your business in higher regard and be more willing to forgive missteps if they feel as if you care about them. For many, this happens when they see themselves represented in your brand. By hiring a diverse workforce, and reflecting that representation on social media, you’ll create quite a bit of good will.
When your workforce is diverse, you’re also significantly less likely to face controversies that may come from lack of experience or understanding. Here’s a great example.
In 2014, clothing brand American Apparel posted a picture of a smoke cloud on Tumblr using hashtags #smoke and #clouds in celebration of the 4th of July. The employee who was responsible for posting the picture believed they were sharing a picture from a fireworks display.
They were not. Instead, the picture they shared was of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding. Obviously, public reaction was swift and not at all positive. The employee who posted it was too young to remember the tragedy. In this case, input from an older team member may have caught the mistake earlier.
Companies frequently catch flack (or worse) for social media content that is culturally or racially insensitive, for being tone deaf regarding social issues, or simply misusing pop culture references. This is often because they lack the frame of reference and perspective to understand why something might be troublesome.
Take a Stand, Provide an Explanation, Never Make Excuses
Sometimes, a simple apology will suffice. In other cases, it’s perfectly reasonable to defend your position. For example, a crisis may result from someone making false statements about your brand. There may also be instances where you must take a stance in accordance with your company’s values.
In 2016, Target faced a boycott and social media backlash from conservative groups when they established a pro-transgender bathroom policy. In this case, rather than bending to the demands of these groups, the company simply reiterated that according to their values as a company they would be providing all of their customers with restrooms that they could use safely.
Sometimes, transparency is the best approach. People want to know why something happens, what’s being done about it, and how you’ll make sure it doesn’t occur again in the future. To do this successfully, you cannot cross the line from providing an explanation for making excuses.
Keep in mind that providing an explanation leaves your audience of a better understanding of what happened, and assurance that you are making efforts to be accountable. Excuse making seeks to deflect responsibility and frame the organization as being the victim of circumstance.
Your company may never face a crisis that leads to any sort of newsworthy controversy. However, chances are that you will inevitably face some sort of PR crisis as the result of your presence on social media. When that happens, don’t panic. Instead, start with a plan of action, work to establish a good rapport with your audience, and implement solid policies.
Melanie Sovann, born in 1990 in the greater LA area, is a seasoned writer and blogger, passionate about a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from technology to sociology. She is currently a writer and editor at Grab My Essay. Also, she is a rewarded writer at Supreme Dissertations and BeGraded and she loves every second of it.