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6 Key Notes on Managing a Digital Crisis via Social Media

6 Key Notes on Managing a Digital Crisis via Social MediaData breaches have become more common than most industries care to admit. The aftermath of high-profile cases like Target, Home DepotJP Morgan Chase and Heartbleed have resulted in digital communications teams rethinking their crisis communications plans, especially via social media.

Having been in the trenches, the biggest challenge is often consumer perception. While some consumers understand that a breach is often third-party related, many others simply point their fingers at their financial institution. They assume their bank is at fault because their account was hacked and money is missing or compromised.

Luckily, a strong, comprehensive crisis communications plan can help address this issue, as well as many other problematic conversations that take place on digital channels.

From credit card hacks to stolen identities, integrating social media into your crisis communication plan will help you even the digital playing field during an emergency.

Here are six key tips:

1. Make social media part of your playbook

While it seems almost elementary, many organizations still don't have a defined plan that details when or how social media becomes part of the data breach communications strategy.

In today’s world, Facebook updates and tweets are just as important as media releases and member communications. While a reassuring and informative phone call or email is preferred, it’s not always possible - more and more consumers are turning to social media during a digital crisis. As a result, questions and conversations will need to be addressed within the channel they originated. Following a more traditional crisis communications plan and simply issuing a press release does little to help calm customers who are actively tweeting away or posting on Facebook.

Tip: A standard best practice should be to keep the content and messaging brief, yet reassuring and informational.

​2. Gather the facts

In the event of a data breach crisis, your internal team will need to act fast. Immediately get your internal stakeholders together, whether it’s in person or over the phone, and discuss the crisis. Gather the facts quickly, and discuss how your company and customers will be affected by the breach. Make sure the entire company is on the same page internally. Once the facts are straight, prepare the narrative you wish to communicate to your customers and execute any existing crisis communications plans. 

Tip: Social media managers should use monitoring tools to search for specific mentions of the issue across digital channels, but hold off on engagement until facts are collected and the appropriate responses are ready.

3. Communicate to existing customers first

While social media is an important facet of digital communications, it’s important to leverage internal customer communication first. Whether it’s a phone call or email, communicating your narrative to your customers first will pull you ahead of the situation. Be sure to act fast once your narrative is in place because the last thing you want is your customers finding out about the breach somewhere else.

Being proactive in these situations is the best route you can take. 

Tip: It’s important to remember that any private customer communications will likely end up in a public domain, either via social media or another medium. Make sure you’re comfortable with your materials being shared. 

4. Share updates in public

Once you’ve proactively communicated the agreed upon narrative to your customers, it’s time to take the conversation to social media. Before posting to your social media channels, it’s extremely important to cancel any existing updates. Your customers and the public won’t care about updates unrelated to the digital crisis. You should focus your posts on the breach or crisis for a few days until it’s behind you. In addition to your narrative, consider posting additional tips about how to protect your personal information for the future.

In addition to posting updates on social, putting a message on your website in a prominent area will be beneficial to your communications plan.

Tip: When posting to social media, it’s important to tailor your messaging to each channel. Social media was built for brevity - less is often more, even on networks with no character limits. Approach each channel with information the average consumer will understand. 

5. Respond and communicate on an individual basis

Customers who've been the victim of a data breach or digital crisis are often very emotional. When dealing with these issues, be overly empathetic. Your social responses cannot be the same canned response when addressing their concerns. Always address questions, comments and concerns with a customized, empathetic response. This helps you avoid looking like a robot and shows your customers you understand their worries and frustrations.

If a customer becomes irate on social media or asks too many technical, industry-specific questions about the data breach, politely take the conversation offline. Ask the customer to private message you their phone number or email and let them know someone from your management team will reach out shortly to speak with them. 

Tip: Never argue or debate with a customer on social media, it'll only hurt your brand. In the same vein, long conversations on social media about the tedious ins and outs of a specific issue can sometimes be harmful when you’re still navigating through the issue yourself and don’t have all of the answers.

6. Updates are key

Keeping your customers up-to-date with the most recent information about the digital crisis is key. As new details emerge, repeat the initial steps you previously took to inform your customers and the public.

Tip: Be as transparent as possible, but not overly technical with details that could confuse the average consumer. Sharing consistent, constant communication will gain the respect and trust of both your customers and the public.

From crafting your message, to keeping your customers up-to-date with the most recent knowledge, integrating social media communications into your crisis communication playbook is a vital part of effectively handling a digital crisis. It'll benefit both you and your customers by providing transparency, access and support during a digital crisis. It could even end up saving your company’s reputation.

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