Social media is a machine with a constant flow of posts, likes, mentions, retweets, and follows. Because of this 24/7 cycle, many brands choose to schedule content weeks or months in advance to keep up. And while doing this ensures that you’re always engaging with your customers, sometimes certain circumstances require you to rethink your entire strategy.
COVID-19 was certainly no exception. Overnight, weeks of scheduled social media posts suddenly became irrelevant.
PwC’s 2019 Global Crisis Survey found that 69% of business leaders have experienced a crisis in the past five years. Sometimes a crisis is global, like the COVID-19 pandemic, and sometimes it’s more local, like your company being named in a lawsuit. Whatever the situation may be, there are a few ways your brand can successfully navigate it without ruining your reputation.
1. Take time to think
When a crisis hits, pause for a moment. Don’t scramble. Cancel all of your scheduled content—from social media to emails to blog posts. Then sit down with your team to plan what’s next.
When COVID-19 first shut the world down, do you remember getting emails from brands that were definitely scheduled before the pandemic? Remember how tone-deaf they sounded? You don’t ever want your brand to be out-of-touch with customer needs. It’s better to take a break from content than to be irrelevant.
If you still want to release some of the content you’ve created, review it thoroughly to ensure it’s still appropriate. And when in doubt—don’t post.
Example of #FailedIt: When Spirit Airlines sent out a very unfortunate email telling travelers that there’s “never a better time to fly” as COVID-19 started spreading in the United States.
2. Have a plan ahead of time
It only takes one mistimed email or poor response on a social post to lose customers. Get a crisis plan in place ahead of time so you can act quickly and appropriately when something bad happens. Think about the following:
- Who will draft a response?
- How will you get alignment from stakeholders?
- Do you need to involve legal?
If this list seems overwhelming, there are PR firms and marketing agencies that can help you proactively prepare for potential mishaps.
If you don’t have a plan and you’re taking time to figure out next steps, you need to be transparent with your customers. According to Sprout Social, 53% of consumers say they’re more likely to buy from brands that are transparent on social media.
If you don’t know the answer to a question someone asks on your Instagram post, don’t ignore the person or delete their comment. Respond with a message that shows you’re actively working on the issue. Try something like, “We appreciate your business and have heard your concern. We’ll message you by the end of the day with an answer.”
Example of #NailedIt: Sephora had a situation where a celebrity posted about racial profiling in their store. Sephora addressed it privately and publicly and was widely praised by their handling of the situation.
3. Listen to what customers are saying
Social media doesn’t have office hours. People can post their thoughts and feelings about your brand any time of day or night. When there’s a crisis, make sure your team is checking your social platforms regularly to stay on top of comments and customer sentiment.
Several social media monitoring tools can help you easily track what customers are saying about your brand online. Responding quickly to negative comments will help de-escalate issues before they get out of hand (or go viral).
Example of #FailedIt: Bank of America was tagged in a tweet that was part of a protest against @BankofAmerica. Everyone who retweeted the tweet got a helpful reply from customer service—but not quite what they were looking for.
4. Learn from it
A crisis helps your brand learn how to handle sensitive messaging if a similar situation ever happens again (fingers crossed it never will!). Here are a few things to explore with your team when assessing your company’s response to crisis:
- What were your customers concerned about?
- What pain points were revealed from both your customers and your internal team?
- How can you improve your service or pivot your product or meet unmet needs?
If you take the time to dissect and assess the past, you’ll have great insights about how to serve your customers differently in the future.
Learn more about how to keep marketing during a crisis in this free guide.