In the last week or two I’ve been managing a social media crisis on a client’s Facebook Page. Things kicked off around a specific political issue after a post on a forum, and suddenly the Page was swamped with new ‘fans’ sounding off and being generally unpleasant. Within a couple of hours, it turned a normally placid and happy community into what looked like an aggressive, spiteful and vitriolic place to hang out, and that’s good for no brand.
I’ve seen this sort of thing get very out of hand for several brands over the last year. Some companies have dealt with things by burying their heads in the sand and basically ignoring the issue until it eventually went away several weeks later; another went to the other extreme and shut down its Facebook Page completely. Both approaches are wrong. They come about through not only having no idea what to do when a crisis strikes, but due to the speed with which crises hit on Facebook. You don’t have hours and days to think about strategy, you have to react pretty instantly.
So here are five simple steps to take control of a crisis situation as it happens, and manage it to resolution efficiently and effectively.
1: Get a statement on your Wall
Don’t wait hours or days to do this, get it up as quickly as possible. Clarify your position on the issue in question, answer specific questions and concerns where you can and, importantly, demonstrate that you care. Keep the statement relatively short and unambiguous and encourage (yes, encourage…) people to respond if they wish. Seek the assistance of your PR team when drawing this up, but ensure it is written in the conversational tone that suits Facebook, not the media.
The downside of posting a statement is that it can (and probably will) bring the issue to some of your existing fans who would otherwise be unaware of it. However, you’re in crisis mode: normal rules do not apply. Doing nothing is far, far worse than the downside of actively posting. This statement will be the place where you enable people to sound off and have their say in the comments, so consider pinning it to the top of your timeline for a couple of days until the furore dies down. Furthermore, expect tens or hundreds of comments and for people to be highly critical and dismissive. But you must be patient, calm and understanding at all times.
3: Turn off posting to timeline
If your Wall is being overrun with negativity and spam, you need to stop people doing it. So lock the Page down. Some people will disagree with me on this one, citing the fact that Facebook is open and that you should enable people to have their say. Normally I’d agree 100%, but in a true crisis situation you need to operate differently. Turning off the ability for everyone to post to the Page’s timeline gives you back an element of control that is missing when you allow posting to run unchecked. You have already given people a place to comment underneath your statement, so don’t allow them to destroy the Page you’ve worked so hard to build. It’s your Page, it’s your community. Control it.
4: Moderate, moderate, moderate
5: Clean up your Page
This is another area that some may disagree with me on. But this is your Page and your property. If someone vandalised your office with spiteful graffiti you wouldn’t leave it there just because they said they had the right to free speech. You don’t have to do so with your Facebook Page.
At the same time, slowly and carefully return to your normal posting routine, but be very sensitive to the issue. Continue to moderate as necessary in line with your policy on spam (off-topic comments are, effectively, spam). If all goes well, open your timeline back up for people to post onto and resume service as normal, monitoring and moderating carefully as you go.
Follow this procedure and the likelihood is that you’ll stamp out any crises way before it gets out of hand. Take control of the situation, be firm and polite, and don’t panic.
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