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Following the Feed: Business Continuity in the Age of Social Media

By Terri Howard, FEI:

Television isn’t the focal point of breaking news anymore. When a crisis occurs today, people turn to their phones for live updates via Twitter threads or Facebook Live videos. While this immediate response can be an active method of dispersing information during a crisis, it also gives anyone a platform to voice their opinions and can spread misinformation at a rapid pace. In times like these, hindsight is 20/20 and everyone is an armchair quarterback.

With these active platforms and loud voices, social media can have an influential effect on business continuity planning. Use the following tips as a guide to help curb the spread of misinformation and improve your social media response to any crisis.

Squash Inaccuracies
Crises can cause a flood of tweets and comments providing updates, opinions and predictions regarding the event, each varying in accuracy. With followers building off of one another’s comments, it’s easy for facts, opinions and speculation to commingle and create a whole new narrative of inaccurate information. As a business, be prepared to respond to the real crisis as well as address regular instances of rumors and false information. Make sure your audience knows where to turn for accurate information and updates so you can post timely and pertinent information that will squash inaccuracies while ultimately protecting your brand identity.

Be Transparent
Social media audiences are eager to know anything and everything about a crisis. Hesitation to provide relevant facts and figures may be perceived as deliberately misleading. Be as transparent with your audiences as you can and provide up-to-date information once it is safe to share. Keep it brief, but accurate. It is okay to tell your audience that an investigation is underway, or that you are working with local authorities and cannot give many details until later.

Create a “Listening Post”
When a crisis occurs, businesses tend to focus internally before communicating to external audiences. When all your attention is focused on dealing with the crisis, however, it’s hard to monitor what is being said on news and social media outlets. That’s where a “listening post” comes in: A tool that synthesizes news about your company across all types of media, including traditional news outlets and social media platforms. A listening post combs the internet searching mentions of keywords such as your company name, brand names and competitors’ names. This method helps monitor the ongoing flow of information so you can learn what people are saying about your company or the crisis itself. You won’t miss a web post or a news story and can accurately verify—or counter—the information that’s being disseminated. Savvy businesses use listening posts year-round, not just in times of crisis, to monitor feedback.

Create Customized Solutions
People tend to hide behind anonymity on social media, posting comments that would unlikely be said in person. These raw emotions help gauge how different types of people are experiencing the situation or how they feel about your company in general. While these unfiltered responses can be harsh, they provide unique insight into how various groups are being affected. This allows you to address concerns and craft customized responses that fit the group or individual. These tailored responses will make your audience feel valued and their concerns heard.

Evaluate the Impact of Your Response
On a frequent basis, take note of how many people are talking about or engaging with your company online. Use this information as a baseline tool for measuring the strengths or weaknesses of your response as online engagement increases amid a crisis. Evaluate the increase in chatter and engagement and track the tone of conversation. Dissecting conversations allows you to assess the impact of your company’s response and helps you tailor your response tactics accordingly as the event progresses.

Call in the Team
Monitoring social media while simultaneously managing a crisis can quickly turn into a juggling act. To relieve some of the pressure, call in a crisis communications team trained in crisis management and response to help monitor how social media disrupts your business continuity. Better yet, have this practice in place as part of your organization’s disaster preparedness training. Combining the efforts of threat assessment and communications can address trouble areas, share accurate information and calm those involved.

When a crisis occurs, it takes all hands on deck for your business to recover and return to normalcy. Weaving these social media best practices into your response strategy and business continuity planning will build your company’s resilience, protect your brand and provide peace of mind.

About the Author: Terri Howard is a senior director of crisis management at FEI. Terri is responsible for working with corporate clients to ensure companies are prepared for, can respond to and recover from a crisis incident. She also coordinates the people support and psychological first aid services for those impacted by a crisis incident and is experienced in developing drills and exercises aimed at testing current crisis management plans and procedures. Terri has contributed to several international standards and guidelines on crisis management and workplace violence prevention, including ASIS and the FBI. 

About FEI: FEI has a 40-year history in enhancing workforce resiliency by offering a full spectrum of solutions, from EAP and organizational development to workplace violence prevention and crisis management. One of the most successful social enterprises in America, FEI is wholly owned by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, a national network of social sector organizations working to achieve its vision of a healthy and equitable society.

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