Crisis Mode: Why Social Media Strategy is Essential When Things Go Sour

For every business, no matter how great, how innovative, how social-media savvy, something will, at some point, go wrong. A server will crash or a storm will knock out power – the list of potential problems is epic. At some point, you’ll need to go into damage control mode. Speaking as someone who deals with communication and social media on a daily basis, but, more importantly, as a recently disgruntled customer, I can tell you there is a wrong way – and a right way – to handle it.

In my spare time, when I’m not writing for work, I also write for fun, keeping a personal blog on which I blab to my friends and family. I found a blogging platform that I really loved in Posterous, which was everything I wanted it to be: functional, stylish, fresh. I even converted a few of my blogging friends because I wouldn’t stop talking about how great it was.

It had been a few weeks since I’d last visited Posterous when a friend of mine emailed me last week to say that her blog – and mine – were gone. I went to the main site, and lo and behold, it displayed nothing but an error page – as did my blog. The writing that I had done there was important to me, and I was heartbroken about having it disappear, seemingly for good.

Panicked, I sent an email to the company, and went to their Facebook and Twitter pages. What I found there astounded me – months of complaints from customers, and not a single word of response from the company on Facebook. The last tweet was from nearly two months prior. That lack of communication was only serving to make people more frustrated. Even when Posterous finally sent out a tweet and the site came back to life, the feeling of frustration and mistrust lingered.

So, here’s the takeaway for crisis-mode social media strategy:

Before the big bad crisis hits, make sure you have a team and a strategy for reacting. Set up lines of communication and, if possible, a point person for approving statements. Make sure everyone in your organization knows about it.

Talking to your customers is important, even if you have to talk about bad news and do it when you’re in chaos. The old marketing strategy of sending out press releases can still be effective, but it’s too slow for users who are highly Web savvy and want answers now. Social media is the most immediate form of communication available, and customers rely on it to find out what’s going on. You can bet they’ll be on your pages, so you had better be, too.

When you take to the social media airwaves, be honest as much as you can, even if you have to say “We’re sorry for the mess. We’re not sure what’s wrong, but we’re doing everything we can to get to the bottom of it!” Start there and keep updating, because people will be watching and forming an opinion.

It might not always be possible to answer every question and reply to every tweet, but addressing your whole audience will show them that you’re engaged. Most importantly, it shows you care enough to risk a bit of embarrassment in order to make your customer feel better. And that often results in customers who stay loyal to a brand.

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