Putting Out Social Media Fires: What to Do When a Crisis Breaks

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Nonprofit Social Media Crisis

By Jay Baer and Amber Naslund*
Courtesy of Smart Brief on Social Media

Sometimes, all does not go according to plan in social media. Will your nonprofit ever see a social media crisis — with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube turning a modern-day mob with torches and pitchforks? Probably not. But maybe you will. And if you do, these are the eight steps to recovering from a social media crisis.

1. Acknowledge the crisis. At the onset of a crisis, when the questions far outnumber the answers, about the best you can do is acknowledge that you are aware of the circumstances. This lets concerned customers and social media onlookers know that you are not asleep at the wheel.

2. Fight social media fire with social media water. In your quest to communicate about the crisis, it is imperative that you do it in the same venue where the tempest brewed. If a crisis breaks out on Twitter, respond first on Twitter. If it breaks on Facebook, respond on Facebook. If the problem is YouTube, your salvation lies there, as well.

3. Be sorry. We may be the most forgiving society ever. For the most part, we’ve forgiven Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Tylenol and about 63,157 other transgressors. We’ll forgive Pete Rose. Someday we’ll be okay with Lindsay Lohan. Same thing with Marion Jones and Tiger Woods. But if you make a mistake and want the healing process to happen quickly — if you care about how you’re perceived and want to win back your supporters and fans — it all starts with two little words: “I’m sorry.”

4. Create a FAQ. Create a comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions document as quickly as possible that details the most prominent inquiries about the crisis and your responses. Even if you don’t have answers to every question, create the FAQ and update it in real time as more information becomes available. In the real-time era, supporters are reassured by watching your crisis management unfold minute by minute.

5. Build a pressure-relief valve. An FAQ page without a discussion forum smacks of traditional, dictatorial, unilateral communication that runs contrary to the expectations of today’s constituents and reporters. If your FAQ is located on your blog, open that blog post to comments. Other opportunities for discussion venues include your Facebook fan page (possibly the discussions tab), comments on your YouTube channel, or a dedicated discussion forum.

6. Know when to take it offline. In circumstances where criticism turns ugly, sometimes you can’t win by engaging thoughtfully on a public venue like Twitter or Facebook or on a blog. For people who are too upset to handle via public replies, attempt to engage them offline. Publicly invite them to contact you via telephone, or ask them to provide their telephone number so that you can call them. This demonstrates your willingness to engage — not just to the thorn in your side, but to all viewers — and can, in some circumstances, reduce toxicity immediately.

7. Arm your army. Provide your team with information that’s at least as timely and accurate as the information being provided to the public. That sounds self-evident, but, in practice, crisis scenarios often unfold in such a way that the communication professionals are so busy updating the Facebook page and the FAQ that they overlook keeping all employees in the loop.

8. Learn your lessons. Once the crisis has abated, catch your breath and document the situation. Make copies of all posts to Twitter, Facebook, and your blog; all e-mails received; all YouTube video posted; and so forth — anything related to the situation, both from your team and from customers. This will be useful to help you reconstruct and learn from your response and is also a good policy from a legal perspective. Analyze spikes in traffic to your website, blog, Facebook fan page, and other venues. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

* Authors of the book, “The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter & More Social,” available for pre-order and debuting Feb. 1. Download the first chapter free at Facebook.com/nowrevolution.

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