Dr. Clāra Ly-Le is the Founder and Managing Director of EloQ Communications. With profound experience and in-depth academic knowledge in the communications industry, she is the first agency head to have a Comms doctoral degree in Vietnam. She has been involved in many successful public relations and integrated marketing projects at both national and regional scale. Dr. Ly-Le is an expert in crisis management. With a profound understanding on the local media landscape, backed by the extended pool of academic research, she has successfully coordinated EloQ Communications team to manage many crises from pre-crisis to post-crisis stage in Vietnam market. She has also worked with international companies to mitigate large-scale media crises and support them in recovering reputation.
Although social media is a dominant and fast-growing platform for communications, its use in crisis communication is relatively limited. The reason is, we often fear what we don’t know. While the use of social media to mitigate crises is no longer new, many organizations still aren’t prepared for it. With COVID-19 in the backdrop, people become more sensitive to any negative information, making PR practitioners even more careful with their crisis communication effort (if any) on social media.
So, what makes a crisis communication effort on social media different?
Benefits of using social media during crises
Giving corrective responses at an unbeatable speed
Crisis communication is all about speed and accuracy. During a crisis, what the public and stakeholders expect is a timely response from the organization. Corrective measures and statements must be delivered as fast as possible, and nothing can satisfy the public’s thirst for information more than social media.
However, social media speed can be a double-edged sword. Good news travels fast, but, bad news travels even much faster on this platform. So organizations should make sure that the crisis responses and information are accurate before publishing it to the public.
Making the message accessible
A response on social media will gain a wider audience than one on traditional media. Many may argue that publishing an official announcement on the company’s website or online newspapers is also very quick nowadays. So there’s no need to release a response on social media that might be shared and misunderstood, right? Mainstream media would create a formal and credible vibe for the brand’s message; but social media make it friendlier and more relatable to stakeholders, allowing the message to spread faster among the community. At the end of the day, social media is where the discussions take place. In an organizational reputation crisis, social media would be the go-to platform for hate comments as it is one of the few channels that offer two-way communication. The public wants their opinions to be heard and seen by the organization and other people.
Thus, giving a response on social media could show an organization’s willingness and activeness in addressing current issues. People are more likely to sympathize with a company and accept their crisis response if such a response is sincere and personal.
Understanding the public’s sentiment
During crises, public sentiment would usually be negative. Many companies fear that social media could escalate this negativity; but on the contrary, social media could give insights into what the public is talking about the organization.
With social media, organizations can monitor public sentiment (which cannot be achieved via print or online articles) and analyze the audience’s concerns to address problems accordingly. From this data, organizations can also map out their crisis response plan to regain the public’s trust more effectively.
How to use social media for crisis communication
The nature of crisis communication is not about control. You cannot control or manipulate what the public says about your organization. Especially when their voices are empowered by social media. In fact, you can only prepare for and respond to crises.
During crises, the communication platforms that work best are all dependent on the organization and its stakeholders. Organizations should focus on the platforms that enable them to connect with the public. And during this time, such a platform is social media.
Be proactive and lead the conversation
Don’t stay quiet and let the audience think for themselves because it could make the crisis worse. Initiate the conversation and state the organization’s viewpoint, apologize if you have to.
There’s a saying that I’d like to reiterate: “bring yourself to your audience”. You should try to be present. Try to say something, even though you don’t know what to say. You must own your narrative, or someone else will.
Be present and provide timely information to fill the audience’s knowledge gap
It’s natural to be questioned by the public during crises. Try to give an immediate response and clear out the misunderstanding (fake news); provide clear company guidelines in the specific situation to address the public’s concern. The audience can drive the narrative off-track if you don’t give a timely response.
Be human and sincere, and show empathy
Whether it is an organizational reputation crisis or a social crisis (such as COVID-19), an organization should show that they care for the wellbeing of their target audience. Furthermore, using social media gives off a more personal and intimate vibe than formal corporate announcements and press releases. Social media can deliver the response in a more empathetic way.
Develop social media pre-draft updates
While an online crisis can hardly wait for a response to be approved by many levels of management, crisis managers can pre-draft templates for Twitter messages, Facebook posts or blog entries, with blank sections for the case details. The templates can be approved by the legal team beforehand so that the crisis team can disseminate the message on the appropriate platforms as soon as the details are confirmed.
Make sure that you take a look and re-evaluate to see if they fit the current context! If it is irrelevant and has the potential to upset stakeholders during crises, then it’s best to pause your promotion. That’s how you bring your audience’s attention to your social media platforms.
Integrate social listening to understand the audience’s insights
After a crisis, brace yourself for a long-run recovery. Society might remember the organization’s misconduct for a long time. Organizations can integrate social media listening during and after the crisis to monitor the public’s sentiment.
I will leave you with the final thought that a crisis is challenging, but it also comes with opportunities. Opportunities to review your brand health and your communication efforts, to monitor and gather the audience’s insights, to make suitable changes, so you will come out better and stronger than before.
Again, social media is only a tool, a quite useful and important tool, but how to use it efficiently depends on you. I hope that my suggestions are helpful to you, and you can adapt some of the ideas to your crisis communication plans.