Chances are good that every B2B social media manager will experience a crisis situation from time to time.
While it’s all too easy to take an “it won’t happen to me” approach to social media crisis management, the reality is that, even if your company never has a bad headline, there will be something that happens that puts you and your team into fire drill mode. No matter what may or may not occur in your situation, a social media crisis communications strategy is essential.
What Makes a Crisis?
A crisis can fall into a few categories. First, there are specific situations that primarily impact your company. These types of events may include:
- Negative comments about the company or its leadership.
- Layoffs or other staffing issues.
- Significant fluctuations in financial indicators like stock price or funding.
- Breaking news that casts the company or its leadership in a negative light.
Then there are industry-related events that may not directly relate to your company but that require some sort of response. Things like:
- A significant market event—for example, a supplier has to shut down a facility or a shipping partner experiences a major disruption.
- Negative headlines about other companies or about your industry in general terms.
- Financial disruption in the sector, like a competitor filing for bankruptcy.
Finally, there are macro events that impact the broad business environment. These types of events may be primarily economic, like inflationary pressures, a recession, or other market conditions. They can also be geopolitical, like a terrorist attack or invasion, the death of a world leader, natural disasters, or mass scale supply chain disruptions.
Know a Crisis When You See One
“Step Zero” for any crisis intervention is recognizing when a crisis is happening. Just as importantly, you need to be able to recognize when something isn’t a crisis. Here at Leadtail, we divide situations into three main categories, or stages.
Advisory. This is probably the most common category for most social media crises. These situations need to be monitored, but they probably don’t require aggressive action.
- Repeated negative posts about your company, stock, or management.
- Rude responses to your social media content.
- Complaints with no specific actionable details.
Alert. These situations require more attention than those that fall into the “advisory” category. You will want to respond within a business day. These types of incidents include:
- Direct inquiries or requests that you can reasonably address, like sales opportunities, media requests, questions about your product or service, career inquiries, etc.
- Specific concerns or complaints, whether it is a current customer having difficulty with your product or a potential customer expressing frustration about your website, trial period, or the like.
Action. Situations in this category are true crises and will require immediate, aggressive action. Crisis situations include:
- A service outage on a social media platform comprises a bit of crisis in its own right. If there is a data breach or if your company’s account is compromised, it’s crucial to communicate (on your own website and on other platforms) what has happened.
- When your own product is experiencing downtime, or if there is another issue (like, for example, a bad build that disrupts a SaaS app) you will need to proactively communicate the issue to your users.
- If there is a natural disaster that will impact your ability to deliver on your customer commitments, you will need to prepare to communicate with your social audience as well as be ready to answer questions and concerns.
- Any negative news item that relates to your business will require immediate attention and proactive communication. Labor issues, health and safety concerns, data breaches on your product, accusations of illegal activity, executive misconduct, and political issues like corporate donations of lobbying efforts are some of the issues that fall into this category.
- Certain geopolitical events will require action even if they don’t directly affect your company’s business. For example, when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February of 2022, we advised our clients to pause all social media posting as events unfolded. We didn’t want any of our clients to be viewed as posting in bad taste or, even worse, exploiting an event of global magnitude.
Plan Before You Act
How you respond to any of these crisis events will depend on several factors, including how directly your business is impacted. But perhaps the most important thing to consider when you’re faced with one of these events is whether or not it is indeed a crisis.
Social media tends to concentrate and amplify the intensity of situations. What may feel like the end of the world as it is happening may not require a full-scale response. In fact, overreacting to a perceived crisis can backfire. The Streisand Effect is real, and you want to avoid it at all costs.
When you’re dealing with a potentially fraught situation, it’s important to take a moment to evaluate it objectively.
A few negative comments can likely be dealt with by providing an empathetic response that helps the disgruntled party find the answers or assistance they’re looking for. If your brand account is on the receiving end of abusive behavior or trolling, the “block” button can be your best friend.
And, in some situations, the best thing to do is nothing at all. At the time of writing, the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death has dominated the news cycle. For certain B2B brands, it would be perfectly appropriate to acknowledge this event. Companies that are based or have a strong presence in the UK might even express grief and gratitude to the long-reigning monarch in social media posts.
For many B2B brands, it would be nonsensical to make a big deal out of the queen’s passing, even though it is a massively newsworthy event. Even worse, jumping on the news with a poorly worded or hamfisted post could invite mockery or accusations of insincerity.
The key to making these decisions well in the heat of the moment is planning. When B2B social media managers have a plan in place before a crisis hits, the work of navigating the situation, making critical decisions quickly, and even capitalizing on potential opportunities is much, much easier.
Setting Up the Playbook
So, what does a B2B social media crisis communications plan look like? Let’s start with the essential framework you need to set up. Once this scaffolding is in place, you can begin to customize it to your particular situation. You can also begin to build contingency plans for some of the scenarios you think will be most likely to occur.
The basic outline looks something like this:
- Have a mechanism in place that lets everyone on the social media and other comms teams know that we are in “crisis comms mode.” Slack or your internal communications tool of choice is the place to set this up. At Leadtail, we have a reserved channel in place for just such occurrences.
- Stop posting. You won’t go silent forever, but the first step will always be to suspend your “regular programming.” An errant post could be disastrous at this pivotal moment in your team’s response.
- Closely monitor your social listening tools. In addition to your regular social listening, set up keywords to track that are specific to the issue at hand so you can stay on top of what’s happening.
- Create a holding statement to publish on all social channels. This is a brief statement that sums up the crisis and succinctly presents your company’s immediate response to the situation. This doesn’t have to be a detailed document that accounts for every nuance and provides contingencies and solutions. In its simplest form, this is simply an acknowledgement: “We know there’s a problem and we’re working on it.” This statement issued by Wipro in the wake of a breach is a fantastic example.
- Stay on message. Only publish content approved by designated members of the crisis communications team. This should include some representation from your company’s leadership as well as (depending on the severity of the situation) your corporate legal counsel.
- As unpleasant as it can be in the moment, the crisis won’t last forever. As the situation begins to return to normal, plan for resuming normal operations. This should include reviewing all suspended content and ensuring that anything that is now irrelevant or out of date is deleted from the schedule. If the crisis involves staff or leadership, you may also need to scrub scheduled posts that include those individuals.
While we all hope that we can avoid crisis situations, there will invariably be times when we’ll need to deal with one. The key to successfully navigating a crisis is to stay calm, evaluate objectively, and execute the plan you have in place.
Need help getting started with your own B2B social media crisis communication plan? Let’s talk!