When crisis or disaster strikes, social media can be one of your most powerful tools.
I had the pleasure of working in the all-inclusive travel industry for over 10 years and am grateful for the experience I gained in crisis management communication. Zika, hurricanes, guest and staff safety concerns, travel advisories, local political unrest, I’ve seen it all. Yet, the good news is, when approached properly, your company can get past it all and actually come out shining.
With social media as the go-to source for news and information, it’s no surprise that when an emergency happens, people turn to their social feeds. In fact, “nearly 64.5 percent [of adults] receive breaking news from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram instead of traditional media” according to a Pew Research Center study. (Links to an external site.)
Here are five ways your social media team can effectively approach and help manage crisis communications:
Be Prepared: I know, so cliché. But it’s true: It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. If you don’t have a social media plan for crisis communication, do it now. Plan a meeting with executive and PR teams and start a game plan. Think of scenarios and the chain of command for gathering, updating, and releasing information so you don’t have to wait around for answers when the time comes. This is an all hands on deck situation, so identify roles for teams and executives that need to make decisions or take action in these situations.
Be the source: News travels fast, so your team needs to be quicker. Get in front of the story so that you can control the facts that are out there. Most important, even if you don’t have all the information, make sure to post a predetermined statement that encourages the public to come back for updates. You want to be the main source of information.
Be transparent: You can’t B.S. people, so don’t try too. It’s also just bad practice to skew or fudge critical information. Just stick to the facts. The Zika scare was one I will never forget. As a resort destination for honeymooners and babymooners planning to have children in the near future, there were real concerns. Instead of downplaying the situation, our company created a Zika map based on reported CDC cases in the Caribbean. What guests saw was that the cases were sporadic and it wasn’t as dangerous as they thought. Even though not an immediate threat, it was also important to let guests know the steps we were taking to ensure their safety, highlighting new resort procedures for fogging, providing repellent to all guests, daily cleaning of resort grounds, etc.
Be consistent and vigilant: Make sure all messaging is cohesive across channels. You don’t want your website contradicting information on twitter or leaving something important out. Moreover, it’s also a good idea to monitor what people in your organization are sharing. What is your CEO sharing or not sharing? Are there rogue managers sharing inaccurate information on their personal social media accounts you may not be aware of? Monitor your hashtags that might develop and everything that your company is being tagged in so you can respond or adjust your approach.
Be human: At the end of the day, you need to humanize your approach (Links to an external site.). People want to know that you care about others, not just your own interest as a company. I have to say that when a hurricane devastated one of our resorts, the first thing my company updated the public on was facts surrounding the safety of our resort guests, staff, and local people. Being human also means being responsive. Social media is a two-way channel of communication with people asking a lot of questions via social media. Your team may not have all the answers, but you can refer back to your game plan and find out how, as a company, you want to respond to followers. And it’s not always bad. I remember after the hurricane, the first thing our followers were asking us on social media was where they could send supplies or money to help. As a result, we were quickly able to coordinate a collection to help stranded guests and resort staff that had lost their homes. Yes, there are still good people out there, not just trolls.
While your Executive and PR teams will always lead the charge on crisis management communications (working tirelessly to strategize behind the scenes), your social team can serve as a valuable asset to public concerns and perceptions.