Social media crisis training: How to make it real

Can you really train your staff for the unpredictable? Here’s how one firm is doing just that.

The B2B world seems to have accepted that social media will be a part of future marketing programs, but how prepared are they to respond to a digital crisis? How savvy are clients or the agencies that serve them?

Most properly staffed agencies have people with general crisis experience but, when it comes to digital platforms … not so much. It’s a new field, so there’s been less time to gain experience, particularly among junior staff. But clearly, there is a growing need for knowledge.

Our firm’s answer was to develop a hands-on training session for all professional staff. We share its highlights below and hope you find them useful.

Our training flowed from a now-famous slip on Twitter that we adapted to our purposes. We gave our competing internal teams the following scenario:

  • The tweet was sent out from the personal Twitter account of an auto insurance agent. His bio identified him as an employee of the company.
  • The tweet was sent 90 minutes earlier, and quickly deleted, but seen (and captured) by a sufficient number of people to cause a problem. That group included so-called “mommy bloggers,” trade press, as well as other employees.
  • The mommy bloggers agreed with the sentiment regarding forms, but did not expect to see such language from their insurance company. Employees were shocked and unclear about what would happen to the agent (there’s no social media policy in place, though his actions may fall under the regular conduct policy).

To make it a bit more fun, we added some other questions for our staff to consider:

  • What happens to the employee? He’s been with the company for three years, has good performance reviews and this is his first real problem.
  • Should the company publicly discuss what will happen to the employee? Should the company encourage him to make a statement on Twitter?
  • While there have been no cancelled policies yet, some of those involved in the discussion are urging others to change carriers.
  • How does the company handle the trust issue it now has with its customers?
  • How should the crisis be handled over the next hour, until the end of the business day, and the following day?

As an added bonus—and to make this as hands-on as possible—we recruited senior staff members to personify the following the key players:

  • Our employee, who felt horrible for what happened. Mid-crisis, he started tweeting again…unbeknownst to the agency until someone alerted them (and yes, he made a temporary, fake Twitter account that had to be monitored).
  • The employee’s boss, who was not part of the marketing communications department and didn’t grasp gravity of the situation.
  • The primary in-house PR contact, who had to deal with HR and customer service issues.
  • A mommy blogger who was very difficult to satisfy and started tweeting the employee directly mid-crisis.
  • A trade journalist whose publication had partnered with the company on a number of surveys and projects in the past. His editor and publisher were not particularly thrilled with the tweet.

How did it turn out? As with any crisis situation, it could’ve been better but also could have been much worse. The teams had different answers to the questions, but good ideas and solid logic underpinning them. Best of all, everyone enjoyed themselves and felt they learned a lot.

How do you train your staff for the unpredictable?

Nathan Burgess is a senior account executive at BlissPR, where he counsels B2B clients in the development of social media and digitally-based marketing programs. He also is editor and publisher of the PRBreakfastClub blog.

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