Why brands need to simulate a social media crisis

It’s not hard to understand why your team needs to train to deal with a crisis breaking on social media – one look at the news shows the power that social media posts have over the headlines.

Whether it’s the President of the United States sending a stream of Saturday morning tweets, or a grassroots campaign that’s gaining momentum, social media gives us all the ability to broadcast our thoughts and opinions like nothing has before.

Brands need to think about how they’ll respond in an age where ignoring one complaint can drive that person to start a campaign that becomes massive in scope.

Social media gives a crisis the power to hit harder and faster. What used to be a local issue could now have a rapid global reach.

The five hot seat factors of a social media crisis

When we find ourselves dealing with a crisis situation, we go into flight or fight mode. The ‘attack’ is unexpected, we feel ambushed and unprepared – especially if we’ve no training to fall back on.

The associative learning provided by a simulation – experiencing the emotion of participating while learning – creates a strong muscle memory that can be called on during a real crisis.

Real crises place huge demands on our abilities to cope under pressure. In a genuine crisis:

  1. We need to respond rapidly, which means we need to think and act quickly. This raises our adrenalin and puts us on edge.
  2. The spotlight is on the brand. People want to see how it will respond. Will it crash and burn? Social media is far more accessible than a corporate press release. It’s more real. People will look there to see how the brand is speaking to its fans and critics, and it will be judged on its tone.
  3. Events are unpredictable. None of us is objective. There’ll always be an audience for positive and negative perceptions of the brand. How will the team cope with that? Will they spend time and energy trying to get through to one very angry person? Will they retreat to only talk to friendly commenters?
  4. Our ability to cope with lack of control is tested. You may have the ability to delete Facebook posts on the brand’s page, but that could make the situation worse. This lack of control can be difficult to deal with and cause us to panic.
  5. We can become paralysed by indecision. Not responding to questions on social media can be just as damaging as posting the wrong response. What if the response that makes the brand look good, isn’t the right response for the customer? What kind of reputation takes priority?

These issues aren’t easy to work through, but you will need to work through them – either in a training simulation, or the real thing.

By simulating a crisis breaking on social media, individuals and teams get a chance to build up their confidence. They’re able to see how they work together during a crisis. They can assess who has what skills for the situation – who makes a good team co-ordinator and who will need extra support. It gives you the chance to make mistakes, and learn from them, in a secure, contained environment, rather than make the same mistakes when a real crisis hits.

For more information on rehearsing and planning for a crisis that breaks over social media, download our free whitepaper.

Gemma is Polpeo’s Content Specialist. She develops the crisis storylines and writes social content for Polpeo. She is the principal voice of Polpeo on Twitter, and blogs on PR Examples and carrotcomms.co.uk/blog.

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