The evolution of social media in crisis communications – Part One: Pre-crisis planning

In the world of issues and crisis management, today’s landscape is dramatically different to that of just a few years ago. Today we are living in a society of digitally enabled, always-on, constantly connected consumers with a multitude of smart devices at their fingertips.



In the world of issues and crisis management, today’s landscape is dramatically different to that of just a few years ago. Today we are living in a society of digitally enabled, always-on, constantly connected consumers with a multitude of smart devices at their fingertips.


To really get an understanding of what we’re dealing with, let’s look at some basic stats. In terms of connectivity there are 2.77 billion active social media accounts globally[1]. As for mobility, more than 50% of internet usage is via mobile devices[2], there are more mobile phones on the planet than people[3] and by 2030 it is predicted that every person on the planet will have access to high speed broadband internet[4]. And what about visibility? It is predicted that 70% of mobile internet use will be video by next year[5] and the rapid progression to 5G will allow us to download a full two-hour movie in just 3.6 seconds!


So, what does all this mean? In short, managing and mitigating an issue or a crisis is a much more challenging and demanding proposition. Social media has fundamentally changed the pace, volume and reach of any information out there, and therefore having complete control over your company or brand’s reputation is just not possible. So, if you can’t control every conversation and story that’s out there, what can you do?


Social media crisis management steps


To be best positioned to avoid or mitigate a crisis effectively, you need to take control of social media and help steer your company’s narrative across multiple platforms, 24x7.


I recommend 10 steps to help you achieve this… five steps to best prepare you in case a crisis hits, then five steps once you find yourself in a crisis situation.


This particular blog (part one) will deal with the five pre-crisis steps.



The worst time to start planning for a crisis is when you’re in the middle of one. Pre-crisis planning that takes into account all of your communications channels, is key to successful crisis mitigation. 


  1. Define what a crisis looks like

A mean tweet or two about your company doesn’t constitute a crisis, but when the volume of online negative public sentiment starts to gather speed, it’s time to consider activating your crisis plan. Social media chat can be classified as a crisis when there is a major negative change in the online conversation about your company and / or it has the potential to materially impact your business. Take for example McDonalds… someone tweeting Macca’s left the pickles off their burger is not a crisis, but some other foreign object in a burger would be.



  1. Establish a corporate social media policy

Companies have suffered some of the worst social media crises at the hands of employees or stakeholders who have posted something inappropriate. Who can forget the furore caused by ARU player Israel Folau posting about his personal views on gay marriage to his twitter account?




In order to prevent situations like this, companies need to consider creating a social media policy that provides a strict set of guidelines for staff and key stakeholders around the appropriate use of corporate social channels (including copyright, privacy, governance, brand), as well as expectations around how they can talk about the company or organisation on their personal channels.


  1. Eliminate security risks

Did you know that employees are more likely to cause a cyber security crisis than hackers are? Weak passwords or too many people with access to these passwords can easily expose your company to a social media security risk. Consider centralising access to control permissions and grant the right level of access. This will also enable you to revoke access to employees when they leave the company and to change account passwords easily and regularly.


When HMV made a large portion of its staff redundant a few years ago, an employee took the reins of the company twitter account to declare “We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!”



  1. Invest in social media listening software

Breaking news usually breaks first on Twitter, so it’s important you can track online conversations and that you are ready to respond. The most effective way of monitoring conversations and identifying potential issues is with social media listening tools. A good program can help you spot an issue online before it turns into a crisis by filtering through the noise and tapping into the conversations that really matter.


If budget is limited, you can monitor chat by setting up keyword searches and Google Alerts. Also be sure to closely monitor high-risk social accounts i.e. aggressive users who are regularly posting negative comments about the company. Consider reaching out to them privately to engage in a conversation directly. (Before you do so, consider internally what you want your responses to be, knowing that anything you say may always end up back online.)


Remember social media listening is only as good as its operator so you need to have a firm protocol in place around who’s listening, when are they listening (nights, weekends?) and what are the listening out for?


  1. Integrate social media into your crisis comms plan

Any crisis management plan these days should detail recommendations on using social channels as part of an integrated response in order to ensure consistency and tone across every channel. From board members right down to junior employees, the social media plan should outline the steps everyone needs to take on social media during a crisis.


For more information on how to protect your organisation in the age of social media, feel free to get in touch.


[1] Statista 2019

[2] Gartners: “Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2014”

[3] ITU World Information and Communications Technology Index 2016

[4] ITU World Information and Communications Technology Index 2016

[5] Ericsson Mobility Report 3, Nov 2015