How to best leverage your social team during a brand crisis

Have the recent Pepsi and United coverage ignited reflections on your own past communication crises? If you've worked in social media for long, you've likely had to weather a few storms. Perhaps you were even on the front lines of your company’s channels.

From disgruntled customers to wronged employees, product recalls and media creating more problems than solutions, crises affect communicators across the industry. And although every crisis is quite different, one thing is sure: your internal processes can be just as important to successful issue resolutions as the actual messaging you put out across your channels.

Here are three ways to better educate and integrate with your social team, when your organization is in the midst of a crisis:

1. Make sure everyone hears everything at the same time (or close to it).

All too frequently, the social media team is looped in midway through a crisis or as an aside. If the issue updates are so confidential or sensitive that you can only have a few people in the room with your execs and legal team, make it your Internal PIO or communicator, External PIO or communicator, and your Social Media lead.

2. Set a regular cadence for real-time social media reporting up the ladder.

Your social team is on the front lines of this battle, and as kindling-type comments burst into flames, they'll see the crisis brewing and building in real-time. If you're already in the midst of the crisis, your social team will have their fingers on the pulse of its tone and lifespan.

In a crisis, urgency and authenticity on social media are imperative.

Do you have to change course on your communication strategy because of a few negative social comments? No, but pay attention if the quantity or intensity of those comments start to pick up. Social crises are like a leaky dam - just a few water drops at first, but those drops can very quickly become a flood.

3. Social Media Managers: As comments come in, track for trends, themes, and particularly unique commentary.

You don't have to screen grab and share every negative tweet with your boss, but if you start to feel momentum building in the conversation, flag it. We can guarantee your colleagues would rather live through a few false alarms, than be caught off guard in a serious brand crisis.

Social crises are like a leaky dam - just a few water drops at first, but those drops can very quickly become a flood.

Moreover, use these trends and themes to add to your "living, breathing" FAQ document. You'll likely be working off of leadership- and/or legally-approved corporate messaging. You can add a social media section to that doc, with common questions or issues you're seeing, and/or you can share feedback directly with your team, who may need to adjust their verbiage or positioning in subsequent messages.

So, what?

Communicating in a crisis can be challenging. We don’t often feel like we’ve "won," even if our side is the righteous one. When emotions are running hot and there's a lot at stake, every tweet counts. In a crisis, urgency and authenticity on social media are imperative.

Unfortunately, we're all going to make mistakes. And the next Pepsi or United moment is right around the corner for some unsuspecting brand - perhaps even our own.

As communicators and leaders, take these news stories as an incentive to better integrate and educate your team. When we know better, we can try to do better.