Social Media and Crisis Communications for Alberta businesses

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Social Media and Crisis Communications for Alberta businesses

Alberta Business Social Media Crisis Communications

Alberta businesses: please don’t count social media out for your crisis communications!

A crisis situation doesn’t usually leave much room for error. People, information, misinformation are moving at warp speed. The desire to act and respond fast can be clouded by circumstance – stress, anxiety, instability.

Recently the ATB Business Beat released a survey indicating that only 47% of Alberta businesses use social media. Many stated that they lacked the time or that it wasn’t applicable to their industry. Here’s the bottom line: whether you’re a small or large company, adding social media to your communication mix during a crisis situation isn’t the exception it’s the expectation.

Social media is important during a crisis because it offers immediate two-way conversation. As a company, you can share information and resources quickly and efficiently with those affected. But the real key is the number of people who trust and rely on social media to get their new and information – more than 38% of people! So having a social media crisis communications plan in place isn’t a bad idea!

When crisis or disaster strikes, typically the first place news breaks is via social media – remember when the plane landed on the Hudson? That story broke on Twitter first! But even here locally in Alberta, folks look to social media to stay on top of unfolding news stories. As I write this blog post, it’s been one year since the fire sweat through Fort McMurray, forcing the largest wild fire evacuation in the history of the province. From coast-to-coast and around the globe, people were glued to Facebook and Twitter to get updates on what was happening – following hashtags #YMMFire and #FortMacFire. Residents who left everything behind used social media to connect with insurance companies and other key organizations. Those of us watching from the sidelines used social media to stay updated but also organize fundraisers and connect people to much-needed resources.  Insurance companies were busy sharing critical information with customers and clients, interestingly enough, some even worked hard for people who weren’t clients – answering questions when they could!

Not sure where to start? Here are some tips for social media crisis communication planning:

Prior to crisis, sit down with key staff to discuss potential scenarios. Discuss concerns and anticipated questions. The more prepared you are, the better you’ll be able to weather the crisis and serve your customers & shareholders.

Know what constitutes a crisis. Media picking up a story about bad reviews on your social media or other similar situations not truly a crisis situation. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have a plan in place on how to approach the situation, but it’s not ‘life or death’.

Know the timeline of when your crisis plan will kick in. Identify how things will be put in place and what kind of resources you need.

Develop a process to collect key information. Remember you don’t need a million key messages but you do need three very clear messages to communicate. The goal is to be consistent with your information; changing the messaging can be confusing to your audience. Keep it simple!

Be very clear on who has the power to approve content and messaging. You don’t want to learn during a crisis situation that there are too many chefs in the kitchen. Know exactly who needs to see what and when. Who has final sign off?

Know who will be speaking on behalf of the organization both online and off-line. Having one spokesperson speaks to clarity and consistency of messaging. Typically this person won’t be in the drivers seat online, but the individual responsible for managing your social media channels must have a direct line to the spokesperson and key leaders.

Know the schedule of when will be available online and off-line. Communicate if there will be extended business hours or limited business hours depending on the situation.

Develop a list of critical contact information ahead of time. Make sure to keep contact lists up-to-date. Know exactly where it is kept and where you’ll share it both online and off-line. (ONLY grant necessary contact information and be clear about who to contact and when.)

Define which social media sites you will use to communicate your messages and engage. Often businesses will have multiple social sites, choose the ones which are most appropriate – Facebook? Twitter?

Develop a process to halt other communication activity. If you’re advertising online or off-line, have a plan in place to halt advertising should a crisis occur (know the ad Calendars and key contact info for owners of the projects.) A good example of this was during the four backfires when WestJet was advertising flights to Fort Mac Murray – an innocent error on their part, however it upset people and caused an unnecessary stir online.

The same goes for any scheduled content. Assuming you’re a small business you may be doing this on your own or you may have a freelancer assisting, have a process in place to put a halt to that content as well.

Ensure you have a process for your website. Your website will be considered an authoritative source. You will want to make sure you have IT, or your web team or contractor available to make changes on a moments notice. That means making landing pages available, editing your homepage or making other necessary changes to reflect the crisis situation.

Develop a list of copywriters, graphic designers and other support staff who can be available at a moments notice. should you need to develop collateral for offline/online.

Have a plan to communicate internally. Make sure your employees are informed. Often times during crisis very concerned with ensuring our customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders are informed that we forgot about her employees. Remember that employees who are informed or more likely to share information – you want employees who are social media ambassadors for your company.

Have a plan on how often you will provide updates. Depending on the situation, you may not be able to update at a regular frequency, however, it is important to discuss ahead of time and make sure this is communicated throughout the crisis.

Decide ahead of time what type of monitoring you will do. do you plan to do that what’s happening online and how will you take action. Will you look at keywords/commentary? How are you respond.

Decide ahead of time which sources you will share critical information from. If it is a natural disaster – local authorities and agencies like Emergency Operations, Police, Military.

Have a concrete workflow of when to take conversations offline. There’s a rule in social media customer service that you must respond to every post, every time on every channel. During a crisis situation, this presents challenges and you must decide ahead of time how you will respond on a priority basis.

Be consistent and set the tone for your interactions. It’s important to be fast online but you must also be factual. Focus on getting your customers, clients, employees and other key stakeholders the most accurate information quickly and efficiently.

Remember: whether you’re a small or large company, adding social media to your communication mix during a crisis situation isn’t the exception it’s the expectation!

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Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay is a Marketing Strategist, Writer + Speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to pretty much everything. Using data and insights, she helps organizations market more effectively to get results that matter. She's also a high-scoring instructor at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Social Media Analytics and Google Analytics + Marketing Measurement. She holds certifications from Google, as well as Facebook and is currently working toward a specialization in Marketing Analytics and a certificate in Data Science from IBM. When she’s not busy juggling kids, volunteering + work, she’s busy planning her retirement to Cape Breton.