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Your Social Media Manager Is Your Crisis Frontline

It’s not a revelation to say that your social media manager is probably more invested in and more familiar with your brand’s social media than anyone else. That person is also the first line of defense in a brewing crisis. Are they trained in crisis communications? More importantly, do they have the qualities a smart crisis manager needs to put out the fires before they start?

My agency conducted two key studies on using social media in a crisis in the last two years. Those studies of higher education communications professionals and athletic communicators produced five key takeaways that every brand needs to develop effective crisis communications. One of the red flag results was that the majority of social media managers had no crisis training.

Your social media manager is your frontline of crisis defense. Lack of crisis training on your frontline leaves you vulnerable when a negative event looms. So what does a social media manager need to know? First, let’s look at the crisis communications skill set they should have.

1. A communications professional. Many times companies make the big mistake of hiring a social media manager with no communications training or background. Brands cannot afford to do this anymore. If the last five years have taught us anything, it is that social media is media first when it comes to execution in a crisis. Don’t trust this important job to somebody that has no communications training. If your social media manager doesn't have that background, get them started in professional development.

2. A creative sensibility. Social media needs to convey a message, often in less than 140 characters, a six-second video, or still image. During a crisis, impactful messages might be the difference between the crisis accelerating or the fire dying down. Hire somebody that has training in creative messaging, video, images, and graphics and can apply that to a crisis dynamic. One of the biggest mistakes I see brands making in a crisis is just plain bad content. A crisis is not business as usual, but it still requires good content to convey the message.

3. Marketing background or training. Not everybody can be a social media manager anymore. The medium is just crammed with content that has no purpose, no goal, and is not cohesive with the brand’s message in any way. There was a day when this worked, but it doesn't anymore. Social media is a full blown marketing tool that requires knowledge to use it well. Again, if your social media manager is lacking in marketing knowledge, get them some.

In addition, your social media manager should be trained in crisis communications that includes the following:

1. An understanding and commitment to triage response. They should know what they can and can’t respond to, when to ignore something that isn’t even an issue, and when to go higher up the chain for an answer.

2. How to recognize the warning signs of a crisis. They need to understand and be able to operate a social media listening system.

3. How to speak and think in third person as opposed to first person. An effective social media manager always thinks and communicates in a brand voice, not as an individual—that is unless they own the company. The most common social media crisis trigger? A social media manager that goes rogue and posts according to their own mind and voice, rather than the brand’s. This will kill you in a crisis.

4. Have a general understanding of crisis cycles and know how to read volume and sentiment in a crisis. They should also know how to identify accelerants in discussions.

5. Be able to operate professionally under pressure in real-time. It is also necessary for them to be a good team player. Oftentimes in crisis they will be working with people they have never worked with before like campus police or a campus legal counsel. They must be able to understand the chain of authority and who they answer to outside their own department.

Your present social media manager may not possess every item on these two lists right now, but you would be wise to start them on a course of professional development to bring them up to speed. Training is the key—all these skills can be learned.  Make sure your social media manager is equipped to be on your frontline.

This is the last in the current series on using social media in a crisis. The other parts can be found here:

How To Include Social Media In Your Crisis Plan

Monitoring Social Media To Prevent A Crisis

How Your Social Media Policy Can Help Prevent A Crisis

Herding The Social Media Cats For Effective Crisis Management

I welcome your input and thoughts in the comments.

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