How to deal with a social media crisis & scale to meet demand

The importance of dealing with a crisis

People who are in the know will tell you that dealing with a social media crisis is not a matter of if but when. Any organisation can find themselves tripped up either through their own design or others’. On some days, that might not be noticed. On another day the conditions are such that the issue goes viral. Welcome to the world of “faster than real-time” crisis management. Given the inevitability of this happening and the fact it cannot be anticipated, extensive planning and rehearsal are needed.

Dealing with the consequences

If you are prepared, you will be able to scale to meet demand, match and even influence the mood of those discussing your situation and possibly come out the other end with greater kudos and brand reputation than before the storm.

If you are ill prepared, you are likely to be constantly on the back foot as the organisation’s chain of command attempts to respond. You are likely to get caught out if saying anything other than the truth and it will inflame and perpetuate the situation. If you appear unable to respond, are indifferent, too corporate, too slow or too flippant, this will be used against you. After the event passes, you are likely to suffer brand damage at the very least. Many suffer direct commercial loss as well.

Sorting the social media issues

  • The speed at which situations unfold means there is little time for traditional command and control style response. In reality, the front line has to be ready to do the heavy lifting plus whatever expertise is networked into operational decision making. This implies you have developed a trusted, capable and empowered team of communicators from the moment you wrote their recruitment brief.
  • The use of social media monitoring is essential to track trending topics and volume of activity. Make sure this can be activated without issue in these circumstances and made available to the tactical response team.
  • Ensure “real-time” means just that with your social monitoring vendor. Especially Twitter.
  • A crisis can occur any time of day, any day of the week. While some markets have always needed to have a 365×24 response capability, this will be a new requirement for others. If this is true for you, how will this be resourced?
  • There are different types of crises. This can affect how Customer Services becomes involved. The most relevant category is a “big” service issue. Examples could be a sustained network outage affecting mobile phones or online banking, a severe weather event or natural disaster that impacts customer safety or travel plans, a product issue that threatens the safety or health of consumers. In these cases, Customer Services would normally play the lead role. In other examples such as a hacked database of confidential customer data or a scandal involving the whole brand, Customer Services may play a support role behind a PR lead. The way in which crisis plans are developed needs to recognise these different scenarios.
  • It’s a fact that employees move on and crisis tactics evolve as more examples provide new lessons. Therefore make sure the plan is regularly revisited, trained resources remain available, and the key behaviours in the plan are actively rehearsed in as authentic a way as possible to maintain “crisis” fitness.

Quick win versions

Plan a very simple version based on a fabricated deadline that you need to be ready within the next five days. Given that, what would you focus on?

1. Find out if any crisis plans already exist.

2. Research lessons learned from previous crises played out on social networks.

3. Brainstorm Customer Service scenarios and response guidelines.

4. Define roles, accountabilities and escalation triggers.

5. Develop a resourcing strategy. This could involve an ongoing internal recruitment drive for “part time” volunteers. If so think through how they are provisioned with the right systems.

6. Develop a training plan.

7. Plan how social media monitoring is made available to the team. Confirm its suitability, i.e. that it is truly real-time and especially that the Twitter feed is instant. If not make provision for a specialist crisis monitoring platform.

8. Rehearse regularly.

9. Review recent examples with the team for lessons learned. Update plan accordingly.

Keep the plan simple. Concentrate more on rehearsing and learning from those experiences.


This is an edited extract from Delivering Effective Social Customer Service: How to Redefine the Way You Manage Customer Experience and Your Corporate Reputation, by Martin Hill-Wilson and Carolyn Blunt, published by Wiley, RRP £19.99

Carolyn Blunt is Managing Director of Real Results Training Consultancy, a people development company that specialises in contact centre customer service training. For the past decade, Carolyn has been writing, speaking and training on contact centre customer service, and has been observing the positive and negative impacts of using social media for customer service first hand. @carolynblunt [email protected]

Martin Hill-Wilson is a customer service and social business strategist. His company Brainfood Consulting provides customer strategy services to a range of B2B and B2C brands. Martin is also a long-term member of the UK customer service community passing on his expertise as a keynote speaker and blogger. @martinhw [email protected]

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