The social media crisis manual: tips and tricks

A manual for social media crisis management

The crisis manual is the heart of every crisis management. This manual usually contains all the important processes, responsibilities, tools and communication elements. However, many crisis manuals currently still have one weakness: the handling of social media in crises is not explicitly regulated. In our experience, this is fateful, because crises today are always digital as well. Accordingly, there also needs to be a comprehensive regulation for social media crisis communication. Therefore, it makes sense to create a social media crisis manual as a supplement to your regular crisis manual. In this article, we explain what such a social media crisis guideline has to include and how you can create it.

What is a social media crisis manual?

A social media crisis manual is not that different from your regular crisis manual. More specifically, it also defines issues and risks – especially for social media – as well as appropriate rules for dealing with them. How do you act to avert crises as preventively as possible? What do you do in the event of an escalation of known risks and what language rules apply then? These and similar questions are answered in a social media crisis manual. For this reason, the social media crisis guide can never be developed separately from the existing crisis manual. Both must be coordinated with each other in the best possible way to guarantee a consistent approach in the event of an emergency.

How do I set up a social media crisis guideline?

To develop a social media crisis guideline, you follow a similar approach to a regular crisis manual. This can be done in three major steps: risk assessment, incident response planning, and preparation of communications actions and elements.

#1 Analyzing the risk environment

The first step is to analyze your risk environment for social media. Which issues and potential crisis scenarios exist that are specific to social media? The social media team should brainstorm together on this question. For this purpose, your company may also already have an issue monitoring system that you can use as a basis for the risk analysis. Risk identification is followed by risk assessment. Here, you assess the issues and risks, develop potential escalation scenarios and evaluate these as well. Standardized assessment tools should be used. This approach guarantees a reliable and, above all, objective assessment of each issue.

#2 Defining the incident response process

In the second step, you define a process for an emergency. Define the actions that must be taken in the event of an escalation of an issue. For this, you specify the actions that need to be taken in the event of an escalation of a problem. Depending on the escalation level, responsibilities and decision-making authority can of course vary – from the social media manager to the head of marketing to the company management. In the end, you should have some sort of guidance in your social media crisis manual for dealing with escalating issues and specific scenarios. This will give you a plan for your incident response management.

#3 Preparing rules and communication elements

Finally, you should prepare appropriate communication elements based on possible crisis scenarios. These include, for example, core messages and statements as well as postings for your various social media channels. In addition, rules for your community management should be defined. Here, you need to ask yourself, for example, whether you want to delete or reply to community posts on an issue as a rule. At this point, you should also consider your company’s existing netiquette. These principles should also be implemented in particular in the event of a crisis – for example, when it comes to hate speech, fake news and the like.

What needs to be included in a social media crisis manual?

Some components of a social media crisis manual already emerge from the development process outlined: an issue and risk map, processes and responsibilities for crisis intervention, and tools for social media crisis management. Specific communication elements such as core messages, Q&As or social media postings also absolutely belong in a social media crisis manual. In addition, a firestorm guideline can also help to deal with this particular incident.

Furthermore, such a policy can also contain a guideline for your employees on how to deal with social media in a professional context. This can be understood as a preventive measure. Such a policy specifies how your employees should use social media in a business context. This can prevent data breaches or social media fraud, for example. Another component can be a toolbox for emergencies. This should contain forms, contact lists, checklists or other applications that facilitate professional action in the event of a crisis. In summary, the social media crisis guideline should contain information on the prevention, intervention and follow-up of crises in the social media environment.

Training in how to use the social media crisis guideline

The best social media crisis manual won’t help you if your employees can’t work with it. It is therefore worth training your employees in how to use the social media crisis guideline. Training that focuses on the guideline and explains key points and procedures is suitable for this purpose. Furthermore, social media simulations are particularly useful. These simulate a social media crisis in a protected environment. Your employees then have to perform digital crisis management under real conditions and in real time. It quickly becomes obvious which points from the crisis guide your employees have already internalized and where there is still room for improvement. At the end of such a training session, your employees are usually well prepared for an emergency and experienced in using your social media crisis guide.

Establishing contemporary crisis management

Today, a social media crisis guideline is no longer just “nice-to-have.” Rather, it is an indispensable component of up-to-date crisis preparation. Nevertheless, many companies still have not defined a policy for dealing with social media crises. As a result, this carelessness not only costs valuable time in an emergency, but also hard cash: if a social media crisis spreads, it quickly causes reputational damage. This in turn leads to a drop in sales or a loss in stock market value. In addition, intervention is usually much more expensive than prevention and preparation. We recommend developing a social media crisis manual even before the first firestorm occurs.

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