Experience tells us that social media may lead to escalated levels of communication or crisis at any time. Whether a company has contributed to a situation that upsets its customers, information is misunderstood, or there is a malicious attack on the brand, you have to be prepared.
Part of the readiness comes from developing a social media policy, which includes a Comment Response Chart, to guide the response and handling of the conversations. The best Comment Response Charts are well rounded to show a range of conversations; from normal dialog and how to handle general questions (certain departments fielding specific inquiries) all the way up to the crisis situation. There are basic Comment Response Charts, and although these companies should be applauded for taking the time to put them in place, it’s time to go to the next plateau. Your organization must be prepared for the unplanned or unknown social media outbreak of negative information that is not necessarily represented on the simple Comment Response Chart.
How do you take the simple Comment Response Chart to the next level? Here are four easy tips to think about when you are working on your organization’s chart:
- Know Your Influencer: Don’t just evaluate the comment, but also research the commenter and that person and/or group’s influence. Is this person a former customer, who is upset and you know that rectifying the situation will bring that individual back into your happy customer camp? Or, is this a constant complainer who wants to be heard and included in changes in your product or service, or is it a troll that is a known as a company “hater” and won’t change his/her course of communication? Knowing the different types of commenters, and their level of influence, will allow you to better understand how to handle the situation.
- Create Levels of Conversation Escalation: Decide before the crisis occurs your levels of escalation, and when certain personnel should get involved in the social media communications. Levels can range from department personnel handling the inquiries, and getting the proper information out through different networks, to including the PR department, the Public Information Officer (PIO) and also alerting executives and a crisis management team. Knowing these levels will help to set guidelines, so that everyone knows when to involve other members of the company, before communication escalates and gets completely out of hand.
- Let the Community Support Your Brand: Understand that there are times that you will rely on your community to answer questions and to provide information to peers. In some cases they may be sticking up for or “fighting” for the brand. If you jump into the conversation and take a stance too quickly it may appear defensive. At the same, you must be ready to have your employees release information at the right time to stop any miscommunication before it spreads. It’s important to identify the topics and instances that you feel are best handled by your community supporters vs. your own internal brand champions (your employees).
- Add the Comment Response Chart to Your Crisis Plan: You should integrate your Comment Response Chart into your company’s overall crisis plan. The crisis management team needs to know the proper flow of information through social media and how social media is a part of all company communications, and not necessarily segregated or placed in a separate silo. By having your Comment Response Chart integrated, all members of the crisis team will be aware of who handles the different channels of communication from traditional to digital and social media. For example, crisis can start in a traditional or digital situation on the organization’s website and make its way to social media. The reverse is also true; it’s not uncommon for a social crisis to receive media attention (yes, that means reaching newspapers or digital media outlets, as well). Having the entire team knowledgeable about the Comment Response Chart and the flow of proper information will allow the company to address crisis through all of the communications channels.
Of course these are only a few of the many tips to help advance your employees with their social media responses, whether interacting with a friendly and sometimes not so friendly public. If you are proactive in your efforts and advance your Comment Response Chart prior to the crisis, your employees will be ready to handle the many situations that may arise, as they engage on the company’s behalf and in its best interest.