Social Media: The Front Lines of Crisis Communications

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Marisa Cain is a social media strategist at Sparkloft Media.


A crisis may come to life in many forms and has many phases—and it just so happens we’re in the midst of one of the most unprecedented forms impacting the globe. While every crisis’ impact—past, present and future—will be measured differently, one thing remains true: Social media will always be on the front lines of crisis communication.

Often times, when news breaks or a big event materializes, the conversation first stirs on social media. Whether users turn to Twitter and share updates about a local weather event, or chatter arises over a brand mishap, everything is social, and a brand’s first line of communications takes place throughout its multiple social media platforms.

Gone are the times when delayed press conferences or newscasts informed the mass public. Now, only a few seconds and a mobile device stand between your brand and a communications crisis heard around the world.

Why Social Media?

Crisis communication touches every part of a company, from entry-level staff to the public relations and marketing team to the decision makers in the C-Suite. But, often, the team members first to be alerted to an external crisis are your social community managers.

When Twitter mentions spike and comments on Facebook start to flood in, it’s a prime indicator that something may be off. On the positive side, perhaps the video you just published really resonated with audiences and they’re sharing a slew of positive thoughts and comments. But there’s always a chance that something is beginning to surface that negatively impacts the brand.

From the moment a crisis is detected on social media, all brand platforms become a critical tool to monitor how loyal customers and “social activist” audiences are reacting to the current situation.

It’s important to keep an active eye on social, pulling daily social media digests with comments, messages, questions and concerns among your followers. These are essential metrics that can help develop stronger and more informative social media responses, and assist in internal brand decisions. When you find yourself in crisis mode, the more you can share with internal teams—all the way up to the C-Suite—the better positioned everyone will be to tackle issues that arise.

Customer Service

Today, the travel industry, in particular, is experiencing unprecedented wait times for customer service over the phone and through email, which leads to consumers turning to social media not simply to share with their followers negative experiences, but to speak to the brand directly through a quick Facebook message, Instagram DM (direct message) or a tweet, rather than wait two hours on hold. What does this mean for your travel agencies? It’s vital to arm your community managers with approved FAQs and monitor social channels diligently.

The good news is that social is often a very effective way for sharing information directly with consumers, on a platform where they’re most likely to see it first. So while you may spend more time responding to questions and concerns during a crisis, consumers will appreciate the responsiveness and will turn to your social channels for the latest information and updates.

Providing Information and Answering Questions

Social media managers may not have all of the answers about the future of a crisis, but they should always be equipped with a strong message. The faster you address questions and messages on social, the less likely the conversation is to pick up. When responding, a direct message, with well-established and up-to-date crisis information can both save time, and public-facing negative blowback from consumers.

Social is, and always will be, there to share useful and informative updates, but it doesn’t need to be your brand’s means of distributing company-wide security updates or health information. Crafting a pinned social post that links directly to your website, for more updates, will help keep social users informed with the latest, most accurate information.

Be Honest. Be Human.

While it’s highly recommended at all times, when crisis strikes, it’s more important than ever to create an honest human connection with your followers. Talking with your communities as a friend and colleague helps ease user tensions and creates a more authentic relationship between customers and the brand.

If you’re concerned about the type of content you’re distributing and whether it works within the current environment, don’t be afraid to ask your followers what type of content they prefer to see—the invitation for followers to provide their input goes a long way. Not only does it help guide your content strategy and calendar, but it also makes them feel like they’re a part of your brand, and creates stronger brand advocates.

In a world where everything is social, it may feel overwhelming and stressful to manage a digital community during a time of crisis. Diligent monitoring, prepared community managers and a human touch will always go a long way, regardless of the scenario.

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