An employee’s guide to handling a social media crisis

Your company doesn’t have a crisis plan? Follow this guide so you’re prepared when disaster strikes.

What happens if the company you work for finds itself in a social media crisis, but doesn’t have a social media crisis plan?

What do you do when the situation escalates and you’re still unclear of your role within the crisis? What do you do when you feel unhelpful, confused and frustrated? What if no one has told you the proper way to respond, or you’re not clear about what your team expects of you?

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are some things you can do to help your company regain control:

You detect a negative situation but aren’t sure if it’s a crisis.

Do some digging and answer the following two questions:

  • Is it an escalating situation where you feel you may lose—or have already lost—control?
  • Can it have a potentially negative impact on the company’s reputation or bottom line?

If you answer yes to both questions, it’s fair to assume the company is under a social media attack.

At this point you must bring the situation to upper management’s attention right away. Provide them with all the information and links you can.

Your company is in a social media crisis and no one on your staff is trained to handle it.

If it is a severe crisis, the best move is to call in a social media crisis manager to guide you through the situation.

Meanwhile—or if it’s not within your means to call in a professional—you can begin by following these steps:

Step 1: If you have a social media initiative team, find out if they can respond to the crisis with a version of the following message:

“We are aware of the situation and currently looking into it. We will let you know as soon as we know more. We thank you for your patience and understanding.”

If there’s no team or individual who’s responsible for doing this, take the initiative. This simple statement is the first step in helping you regain control of the situation.

Step 2: Once you determine the route of the problem, make sure upper management keeps the entire staff in the loop. Every member of your team should know:

  • Who is responsible for publicly addressing the crisis.
  • To whom or where they should send inquiring individuals. Is there a frequently asked questions page or official response upper management will publish? Is there an email address or direct crisis line to contact?
  • The message the company should communicate throughout the crisis.

These are important questions someone needs to answer. It’s important that the company communicate a clear, targeted message to the public across all communication channels.

When in doubt:

  • Remain calm.
  • Focus on the areas in which you have control.
  • Understand your role within the crisis. If you’re unsure, find out.
  • Find out where to send inquiring individuals.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Focus on strengthening and rebuilding your relationship with your customers and fans.
  • Identify the consistent message you need to communicate.

Learn from the mistake

When the crisis is resolved, use it as an example of why the company needs to invest in a social media crisis plan. It would be unfair for the company to leave you vulnerable and put you in this unsettling situation twice.

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and handling a social media crisis unprepared is not a lesson you want to learn twice.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? How did you handle it, and did your company learn from its mistakes?

Melissa Agnes is a social media crisis manager, speaker and consultant. She blogs at MelissaAgnes.com, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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