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Designing a Social Media Policy That Actually Works in a Crisis


In my current series on developing response strategies in crisis communications, I shared ten essential elements that your crisis response plan needs to include.  One problem with many crisis plan “kits” is that tactics can be so template-oriented that they often fail to work smoothly in a crisis. When it comes to designing a social media policy that works for all operations including crisis management, the key ingredient is flexibility.

One of the first questions I ask people looking for a social media crisis response plan is, “do you have a social media policy?” If not, that’s where we start. If you build your policy well, it will guide you in putting together many other pieces of your response strategy. Your social media policy should be complete, but not long, precise, but not limiting, and most of all, it should reflect your organizational culture. One policy should cover all aspects of a brand’s communications. You may have separate tactics for crisis and for promotion, but your policy should be the same for both. A practical social media policy that can work in a crisis should include the following:

  1. Purpose: What is the purpose of social media in the organization? Are you building and growing a community? If so, then you can’t disappear from social media channels in a crisis. Are you using social media strictly to inform or broadcast? Then, your social media protocol in a crisis will reflect that. Be real. Don’t paint an idealistic picture here. Be true to yourself and your comfort level, or you will have a crisis during your crisis trying to implement procedures that don’t reflect how you do social on a daily basis.
  2. Rules of Engagement:This section includes:
    1. Responsible use information including protection of proprietary information, copyright, permissions, transparency and disclosure, ethics, compliance,  and other guidelines for individual users designated to be present in social media channels on behalf of the organization.
    2. Guidelines for determining when a personal account belongs to the company.
    3. Triage response plan and monitoring procedures including who is in charge of what, when, and where.
  3. A complete data base of all social media channels that belong to the organization including admins, approved users, logins and passwords. This includes any personal branding accounts that are under the organization’s umbrella. This information is kept by the community manager.
  4. Guidelines for training and authorization procedures to use social media on behalf of the organization.
  5. Clear consequeces for violating the policy.
  6. An FAQ and tips on how to use social media well.
  7. A procedural guide for how social media channels will be used in the event of a crisis.

These guidelines are general enough to fit the culture of any organization, whether you allow everyone to be a social media ambassador or whether you have a more conservative, controlled approach. What did I miss? Add your thoughts in the comments. Do you have a social media policy? If so, how is it working?

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