SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

This week, we asked: If a social media public relations crisis were to hit your brand tomorrow, do you think you would be prepared to respond effectively? The results:

  • We have the capacity to respond, but there’s no formal plan in place: 63.81%
  • We wouldn’t know it was happening until we read about it in the media: 15.24%
  • Yes, we have a well-documented social media crisis-control strategy: 15.24%
  • We’re monitoring social channels but lack the capacity for a response: 5.71%

If it can happen to McDonald’s, it can happen to you. The fast food chain recently found itself in hot water after its promoted trend on Twitter was turned into an opportunity to mock the company. McDonald’s pulled the trend after two hours. Some people have criticized the brand for ending up in that position in the first place, but think about how much worse things could have been if the company hadn’t been aware of how users were responding to the promoted trend and willing to take quick, decisive action. Two hours is long enough that pulling the trend isn’t a knee-jerk reaction, and the company didn’t make the mistake of trying to feed the trolls — engaging in rational debate with people who are out only for attention. But the company acted early enough to keep the abuse from truly going viral — and its response since then has been consistent and appropriate. You can argue about whether the company should have used the promoted trend at all, but once things began to go south, its response was right on point.

But what about you? If your social media presence were hijacked or a damaging news story broke about your company or a customer service complaint started to go viral, would you be prepared to respond in a cool, disciplined manner? Most of you say you’ve got the means to respond but no plan for how you’d react. And that’s a problem. Because when it comes to social media, he who hesitates is lost. Speed is important, but so is consistency and calm. And those are attributes you can get only from having a well-considered social media crisis-response plan.

Maybe it’s the word “plan” that frightens people. This doesn’t have to be a major undertaking: Having a social media crisis plan means everyone knows his or her role. If you don’t have a plan yet, try asking yourself:

  • Who is supposed to be monitoring social channels for signs of trouble? How is the person doing this?
  • If something went wrong, who would have the authority to respond?
  • If that person is unavailable, how is that authority delegated?
  • What kind of negative reaction does the company need to respond to, and which ones are better left alone?
  • What’s the official company line for common complaints about the brand?

Now, knowing the answers to those questions isn’t the same as having a social media plan. But it’s a start. You can hammer out the answers to those questions in an afternoon meeting and use them as provisional guidelines while you work on a more formal plan. That way, you won’t be caught flatfooted, even if trouble comes looking for you.

How are you preparing to respond to negative publicity on social media channels?

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7 responses to “What does it take to be prepared for a social media crisis?”

  1. […] What does it take to be prepared for a social media crisis? […]

  2. Really great post! I love how you brought the most recent crisis into it!

    Those numbers are a clear statement that more companies need to make the realization that they need to prepare themselves. Too many companies learn that they SHOULD have been prepared, when it's too late. We can only hope to keep informing brands/people, and that others won't continue to make the mistake.

    Thanks for the post and the stats!
    Melissa Agnes
    My recent post The Best and Worse Social Media Crises of 2011

  3. Jesse, awesome post! "….. there’s no formal plan in place 63.81%" failure to plan=plan to failure!

  4. I think in our current state, Yes we would. It's kind of hard for big companies and corporations to jump on a problem like a social media highjacking unless they have a team of people handling their social media campaigns. The small business man, however, will see this coming quicker and be able to weather it (if He even knows what he's doing).
    My recent post Tech Talk

  5. […] Read the full article: What does it take to be prepared for a social media crisis? […]

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  7. […] While social media continues to grow and users welcome it into most every aspect of modern life, few businesses are truly prepared to launch a social media crisis management campaign. Check out these telling figures, from a recent SmartBlog on Social Media survey: […]