Tips to help small social media teams respond in a crisis

Crisis communications is a hot topic at the moment as COVID19 responses remain the focus of almost every organisation worldwide. Although this isn’t another blog from a crisis consultant advising or critiquing Coronavirus responses, instead it’s a thread of observations from the past few courses I’ve taught to communications officers and answers to common questions about how small teams can manage a social media in a crisis.

I regularly teach courses on crisis communications and today I presented a webinar where I was asked advice on three interesting topics:

1.    How to publish accessible images on social media using subscription software?

2.    How to respond to negative comments online?

3.    How can the wider communications team training get involved to support the demands of social media?

Instead of keeping the advice between participants, particularly as many teams are working on COVID19 responses, here are my answers for all to benefit:

First up, advice on training the wider team on social media:

1.    Set up a monitoring dashboard with no publishing rights, for all staff to see

This will allow anyone in the organisation to look at a dashboard created by the social team (so all the priority voices and projects will be configured!) so as everyone can keep up to date with online coverage of their policy/working area. This will allow staff to see how stakeholders they work with on a day-to-day engage online. The goal here is to keep social at the front of everyone’s mind, on a regular basis. I suggest putting a link to the dashboard on the intranet for easy access.

2.    Hosting social media lunch & learns for wider staff

Particularly useful for smaller teams who might need to call on others to help out in an incident, holding a lunch and learn will allow you to teach them the basics of how the corporate channels are run. Open the session saying it is a safe space to ask questions or follow up with you later if they feel shy to ask in an open forum. It’s best to get people onside and informed in peacetime so they can be useful in a time of crisis. Depending on those in the room, it might be an ideal time to recap the corporate social media policy too, to avoid any confusion.

3.    Social media shadowing opportunities

Mainly for larger teams, but advertise ‘space’ in the social media team when a staff member is away on holidays or extended periods of leave. Big up the opportunity as a ‘two-week social media placement’ where interested people in the wider comms team can apply to fill the role whilst a social media officer was away on holidays. Yes, this means having to train someone when you’re a person down, but it also means that at the end of it you have an experienced resource ready to step in if a crisis hits. This can also be done as a work shadowing day, or afternoon. Make the opportunity sound appealing!

Responding to negative comments on social:

Unfortunately, there isn’t one correct answer for this as it is, and should be, a judgement call at the time based on the situation at hand. My general advice is if a post is negative, ask yourself these five questions:

1.    Is it from a real account? (remember the bots!)

2.    Is it about a relevant topic to our organisation (does it fall under our responsibility?)

3.    Does the post express a genuine query? (is it not a troll or a troublemaker who isn’t really looking for an answer?)

4.    Is the content in the post true? (do we need to correct it so that if someone else saw it, they would be able to see the correct facts?)

5.    Will a reply add value?

My rule of thumb is to also tap out of a conversation if you can’t solve the query in three replies. Again, this also needs to be assessed on a case by case basis, but it’s a good measure to go by generally. The first reply corrects the facts, second clears anything up that still remains confused, third reply is the final effort to defuse the situation. Everyone won’t always agree with our business and what we do, and that’s okay. Although it is important to make sure the facts are there for anyone else to see if they came across the original post.

Remember, the sharing of personal details, staff information or discussing of confidential matters are just a few examples of conversations I would suggest taking offline and not engaging with on a public thread.

Remembering accessibility for graphics on social media:

Unfortunately, graphics are still being shared by official channels on social media with no accompanying ‘alt-text’. This means a significant portion of the community cannot see and understand the information being shared. An attributing factor to this problem is that many social media publishing suites do not have the ability to add ‘alt-text’, causing only inaccessible posts to be scheduled. Subscriptions to these scheduling tools are costly, and the reality is these companies need to be doing more to make ‘alt-text’ as standard. It’s absolutely not a ‘nice to have’. Sharing only accessible content is important. My advice is don’t give up on this – contact your provider and tell them this is a necessity for your organisation and ask how they are working to improve their accessibility services.

In the meantime, you can make your posts accessible through the native social media sites. I’ve explained how you can do that in a recent blog, and my colleague has also explained why it is important.

It’s a challenging time for everyone working on COVID19 responses, particularly the small comms teams, the ones with one or two people who are working super hard to keep up with the demands of tending to multiple social media channels. I feel it is times like these that remind us all how important communications is in a crisis response. Just like accessibility, communications not a ‘nice to have’, it’s a vital function in a crisis cell, and managing social media communities is a significant and time-consuming part of that.

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