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Plan for the Unexpected

spider web with fog droplets, San Francisco.Image via Wikipedia

The "race is on" attitude toward social media has slowed and given way to a business community that recognizes that successful social media strategy and execution is far more important than simply having a presence.

One must-have item on the planning list should be crisis communications.

Social media gives everyone a voice. This has opened up infinite doors of opportunity, especially considering the economic times in which social media platforms and peoples’ usage of them skyrocketed.

Businesses and non-profits that saw slim budgets grow even slimmer during this time, as well as cutbacks, layoffs, and unemployment, was the theme of nearly every conversation with friends, family and colleagues. Social media were free marketing and communication tools that gave every individual with access to a computer a microphone and spotlight.

However, just like at karaoke night, not everyone should have a microphone.

There are those who will attempt to derail your social media conversation. They see a tragedy or crisis impacting an organization as an opportunity to step up to the open mic. These few bad actors - often called “trolls” -  are seemingly waiting in the wings ready to pounce with gratuitous sarcasm, caustic allegations and negativity. This can easily inspire a public relations tailspin. The best thing to do is to approach it calmly, rationally and methodically.

First, hopefully the answer is yes! Do you have a policy that addresses how you handle these types of situations? If not, don't wait until you have a problem. Instead anticipate several 'what if' scenarios and establish a policy for handling them. Next, plan to respond swiftly, but rationally. When a crisis situation involving the organization arises, respond on social platforms with consistent messages to your offline media statement.

Brevity is expected in social media and in this case is your friend. It is not necessary to engage in conversation beyond sharing the official statement. It's important to listen to the audience, but understand exactly what your are hearing and who from. When a visceral response aimed toward you comes in writing via the social web, the volume of one voice becomes so loud it sounds like 100. If a good portion of the community responds in anger, more may need to be said. However, if only one or two out of thousands are making noise it can be handled with more precision.

Don't let the desire to put out the fire quickly keep you from giving it time to go out on its own. I equate it to interacting with children or pets, attention for those seeking attention fuels the fire even if it's negative attention. Falling all over yourself with numerous posts to react to only one or two people who are upset shines even more of a spotlight on those individuals. The lack of attention may result in silencing the offender.

Be prepared to follow through. You put a social media policy in place to address the situation. If you have a case where an individual in your community, whatever platform, is interacting with the organization or its supporters in a way that inhibits the experience for others or otherwise acting outside of established policy, warn them. If it continues, follow through with blocking them. It's not censorship, it is protecting the integrity of the community for the sake of the rest of the audience. If someone was shouting at the screen in a movie theater, the ushers would surely have them removed.

One final thought, be sincere if an apology is necessary and confident if not. Whether on TV, radio, in print or on the social web, we are a smart and intuitive people. We can spot disingenuous from a mile away.
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