How social media can be used for crisis communication

- March 1, 2024 6 MIN READ


The digital world has completely altered our expectations. Customers now expect one-tap shopping, instant messaging, and, yes, real-time crisis communication. To help you navigate PR in the digital world, Renowned SEO authority Nick Brogden, Founder of Earned Media, shares his expertise on social media and how to take advantage and control the narrative during a crisis. 

Every business owner knows that crisis communication is a skill you hope you never need to use. But like a fire extinguisher, you need to keep it around just in case. 

Regardless of your industry, you must be ready with a social media crisis communication strategy because your customers and the world will have all eyes on your pages. 

Social media crisis communication vs. traditional crisis communication

One of the most significant differences between social media crisis communication and traditional crisis communication is their speed of reach and dissemination. 

Through social media, your audience can be updated in real time. At the same time, the traditional approach requires coordination with the media for a press conference that appears on the news or an official statement released in print. 

Crisis communication through social media also allows the public to interact and engage with you, while the traditional alternative will only have official media representatives present.

Modern-day crisis communication is all about speed, an advantage in an emergency. However, you are also fighting against the rate at which negative news and false information spread. 

The primary difference between social media and traditional crisis communication is the medium and structure. Traditional crisis communication requires a formal, templated format, such as a press release or a speech. Social media allows for various ways to release a statement, such as video, infographics, or a series of Tweets. 

The importance of social media for crisis communication

Social media has become so embedded into our daily lives that no business can succeed without it. It’s no longer just another channel for communication but rather a necessity. When a crisis occurs, regardless if it happened purely online or if it’s a crisis in the traditional sense, you must address it on your social media pages. Your audience will be waiting.  

Choosing to handle the crisis the traditional route and not addressing it on your social media pages can get you in trouble. Your audience expects you to release a statement, post updates on your pages, and answer questions during the crisis. 

Gone are the days when you could pick and choose the questions you had to answer during a press conference. Today, you have the entire internet to answer to. 

Social media can help you take control of the discourse, fight fires before they spread, and dispel false rumours. Being proactive in your approach assures your audience that you’re on top of the situation and will keep them in the loop. 

How to use social media for crisis communication? 

Thanks to social media’s instant nature, the “golden hour” — the first 60 minutes after an incident when PR professionals have time to assess the situation — is now obsolete. 

You must address the situation as it happens; social media is the only tool to help you. Whether you’re dealing with a petty flame war or a serious PR nightmare, here are seven ways to use social media for crisis communication. 

1. Establish an active social media presence 

Your social media platforms can’t function solely for crisis communication purposes. Before a crisis, you must have established a solid following on your pages. Having an active presence on social media by posting regular company updates and the usual marketing material lets your audience know where to access important information. 

An active social media presence gives you more insight into your customers and helps you earn their trust. If you use your platforms regularly to share updates and be transparent about company news, then your audience is more likely to wait patiently for updates on your page during a crisis. 

2. Pause your regular posts 

As a social media professional, the first thing to do during a crisis is pause all scheduled posts while you assess the situation. Once you have all the information you need and your crisis communication plan in place, you can review your campaigns and upcoming posts to decide if they need to be postponed for the time being. 

When a crisis unfolds, your audience will be on your page waiting for updates. A scheduled marketing post in between may seem like you’re downplaying the situation or not prioritising the concerned parties. 

Before posting anything unrelated to the crisis, ask yourself: Does my audience need to know this now? 

Remember: Anything you post during a public relations crisis will be scrutinised. If possible, postpone all “business as usual” posts until the issue is resolved. Depending on the severity of the crisis, you may need to rethink your entire content calendar.

3. Provide real-time updates 

Australians spend an average of 6.8 hours per day on their phones and thanks to the internet, news now travels faster than ever. Prepare an initial statement before everyone else inserts their opinion. Things can change instantly in a crisis, so providing clear and factual updates is crucial as the situation develops. This avoids speculation and gives your audience the peace of mind that you’re keeping them informed. 

For instance, if a storm hits and your operations are affected, customers will want to know things like:

  • How their orders are impacted
  • Delivery updates, 
  • Refund information
  • Adjusted operation hours. 

Customers will also appreciate knowing your action plan and how you intend to help people affected by said crisis. 

4. Incorporate social listening 

Aside from knowing what’s happening on the ground during a crisis, keeping track of what people say, including your customers, stakeholders, and even the general public is essential. 

Incorporating social listening into your crisis communication strategy allows you to debunk false information and manage your reputation. If you already practice social listening as part of your regular social media strategy, adding relevant keywords related to the crisis is the only difference. 

The last thing you should do during a crisis is remain silent. Your audience should know what’s happening, especially those impacted by the situation. Keeping silent removes your power to control the conversation, allowing competitors and angry customers to do more damage. 

5. Take advantage of each platform’s features

While many businesses have incorporated social media into their crisis communication strategies, most still stick to the traditional formats like press releases and statements simply uploaded onto each platform. 

People will undoubtedly prefer traditional PR formats, and it’s still recommended to be maintained as official documents. However, not taking advantage of social media’s features almost defeats the purpose of using it altogether. 

Remember that your audience on social media consumes content differently than they would through traditional mediums. 

For instance, if you have a press release, consider creating a vertical video showing a key person from your company. In addition to adding a human element to your press release to increase trust, vertical videos perform better, with a 90% watch completion rate. 

If applicable, Facebook also has crisis response features, which allow users to mark themselves safe, give and ask for help, and get updated with verified information from trustworthy sources. 

6. Have a social plan for different scenarios

It’s impossible to predict when a crisis will happen and what will happen. But it’s always helpful to be prepared. Review instances from similar companies and look at how they managed the situation. What did they do right? How can they do better? 

Outline different emergency situations and prepare templates for action. Assigning key people to your crisis response team and listing their specific tasks is also crucial. 

Since speed is everything in emergencies, having editable social media templates ready can help you act fast and update your audience if something happens. Waiting too long to post may make your audience think you have something to hide. 

7. Measure, measure, measure 

After the crisis has been resolved, you must review how your audience responded to your message throughout the situation. Analyse your comments, reactions, shares, and overall audience response. This will help you determine how you handled the situation and note areas to improve in the future. 

One thing to look at is the change in audience behaviour. Did you lose followers after the crisis? Were your sales impacted? These numbers can help you plan your next steps. 

There’s no predicting when a PR crisis will strike, but being prepared can help minimise its effects on your business. While traditional crisis management strategies are still valuable today, having social media as a tool can help you:

  • Take control of the narrative and prevent the spread of false news.
  • Give your audience peace of mind.
  • Provide assistance and customer service if needed.
  • Manage your reputation.

Use the tips above to help you build a solid crisis communication strategy for any scenario.

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