Most small businesses jump into the social media game without having a reaction plan for when a negative customer service incident happens.  

Because crisis events can and do happen, your brand should be prepared to address these with supreme delicacy. Sometimes ugly incidents happen that either directly involve your company or not. Posts meant for in-house staff go public, or a certain message is interpreted as misleading or insensitive. Sometimes an event that affects the company in the real world spills over into social media, where it can quickly spread among your followers.

A bungled crisis can damage your reputation, and even end up being reported by the news, so, truly, having an actionable social media crisis plan is a must. But how do you go about developing one?

Here are four essential steps for damage control when a crisis hits your social media channels:  

1. Detect the Crisis

Before whipping out and implementing your crisis plan, you have to recognize that you are in the middle of a crisis in the first place. To effectively address the incident, you must be in firm control of what is going on in your social media accounts. This requires that you always be aware of the social media conversations that address your brand.

If you discover a complaint or negative comment about your business on a profile page, which may go viral, or worse, more than one negative comment about the same issue, address it immediately.  

2.Identify The Causes of the Crisis

Do some research and find out what caused the problem. Who played a role in the incident? What transpired exactly and when? Once you grasp all the basic details and information about the incident, you can more effectively come up with a plan to fix the problem.

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Be sure you and your staff have discussed how to address a crisis before one takes place. It’s important that all team members be on the same page about how to handle the situation with the right counter-campaign messages so that the problem is addressed and soon forgotten.   

3. Evaluate The Four T’s

Tone – What tone should you adopt in your response? Not only should your tone be in line with your company’s general tone but it should be additionally sensitive to the issue at hand. If you can approach the incident with lightheartedness, be lighthearted. If the issue is serious, write your message in a serious tone.

Timeliness – When did the incident take place? Make sure you are reacting to the problem quickly. This is why having a how-to plan guiding you as to what to say is so important – you don’t want to waste time thinking about how best to address the incident and deliberating when it’s best for you to address the situation tout suite.

Thoroughness – What social media platforms is your business on? You don’t have to address the problem on all your platforms, thereby drawing attention to an incident that would best be taken care of on the fewest number of platforms possible. Monitor how the story is spreading, and identify the platforms where the issue is lurking.

Transparency – Frame your response in an honest and transparent manner. Not only should you acknowledge any mistakes your company has taken to address the issue, your response should be candid and forthcoming. This means openly disclosing all the action steps you will be taking to fix the problem in the eyes of the public.

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4.Respond Appropriately

You know you are ready to respond when your social media posts are all drafted, no matter in what language (as translated by your translation services provider).  When you send them out, be prepared to deal with the forthcoming feedback. Keep your PR team on the alert so that they know what to say when the feedback comes rolling in. Resorting to a CMS tool here will be very useful for your team – it will make sure you are all on board with what is going on and how to respond as a unified team.

Once a crisis management plan has been drafted, send a copy to all relevant members of your team. Conducting mock scenarios with relevant staff members should help prepare them for real world situations. A good crisis management plan, along with a bit of training, should help your company get a handle on any future social media catastrophe.