Marketing in crisis: 5 tips for meeting problems head-on

By Larry AltonLarry Alton

Social media is a powerful tool for businesses, but it’s also created a dangerous situation: a crisis can emerge and become a major news piece at any moment, 24 hours a day, and you need to be ready to respond. In fact, social media even causes these crises, whether due to an unfortunate tweet by an employee or an inflammatory customer comment. Social media is a public forum and anything can happen.

Luckily, social media also enables you to reach your customer base quickly and easily when the worst inevitably happens. When responding to a problem on social media, there are five steps you should take to reassure your clients. Here’s how to break it down so you can start building your business back up again.

Name the problem

The first thing you should do when addressing a crisis on social media is to be forthright and identify the problem. You can only assume that most of your customers have already heard about the issue, so don’t be vague. Rather, note the pain point customers are experiencing due to your business problem and accept responsibility. Sidestepping the problem will only cause customers to lose faith in you.

Plan ahead – then apply the plan

Another factor in your business crisis response is planning in advance. Accept that these problems happen to every company, big and small, no matter how in control things seem, and develop a disaster-recovery plan that allows you to act swiftly to restore your business data and operations when problems emerge. Cloud disaster recovery provider Zetta recently found in a survey that two in five companies have no such plan. and almost 30 percent of companies test these plans less than once a year.

Such a process is called business continuity, and having a business continuity plan gives your company something to lean on when you address the public. It allows you to say, yes, there is a problem, but we already know what to do to address it. In fact, you can tell your customers that the wheels are already in motion to fix things.

Speak together

In most large companies, more than one person manages your social media presence. That means that in the rush to respond to an emergency, everyone may not be on the same page and customers may get contradictory messages. It’s important to get your whole team communicating in sync to prevent further confusion and concern.

Keeping your team in sync during a crisis is so important that there are entire businesses devoted to the process, such as Redscan. Redscan not only runs pre-crisis company audits but can help your business determine who is responsible for communication during a crisis. Narrowing the scope of who will speak to the public when you’re on red alert can help prevent miscommunications.

Check the schedule

Once you’ve made a few initial posts addressing the current issue, step back and take a look at your social media schedule. You probably have content scheduled to launch over the next few hours or days; put scheduled content on hold for now until you have the current situation under control. This may mean tossing a few posts that are no longer timely, but carrying on as if nothing has happened will be distracting to your customers and could possibly even signal that you aren’t taking the situation seriously.

Make room for responses

You’re likely to be inundated with questions and concerns when your business is facing a public problem. Many of these will come from media sources or high-profile clients, but others may come from smaller interests who rely on your service. To deal with all of this incoming content, you need to create a way to filter through it. One way to simplify this process through social media is by offering your customers a hashtag to use.

As we’ve seen in an array of circumstances, including natural disasters and political crises, people often turn to hashtags to mark connected content. While this can draw more attention to a problem you’d like to downplay, by providing a hashtag yourself, your brand opens itself to legitimate conversations around the issue. It’s a reminder that you aren’t hiding or sidestepping your problems, and it allows you to provide better customer service over the following hours and days, responding to individual and mass concerns.

Social media is a valuable tool in the face of data breaches, stock crashes or company controversy, but your business needs to implement its response strategy dutifully. Be forthright and unified in your response and listen to what your customers have to say in return.

If you’re prepared, you’ll get to the other side just fine – crises happen to everyone, including big names like Burger King and KitchenAid – but smaller companies only thrive in the aftermath if they can respond to and resolve major problems in a timely manner.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.