In 2019, a study by PR News revealed something truly astounding: While more than 60 percent of businesses claim to have a crisis management plan, only half said that their plan was up-to-date — and many admitted they had never seen it or didn’t know what it entailed.
What’s more, few have considered how social media plays into their crisis communications; while often not the first line of connection with employees or the public, social media is nonetheless an efficient way to share news, instruction, and updates. The question is: Are you using it correctly?
To ensure your social media-driven crisis management is in line with best legal practices, ensures clarity and not confusion, and moves your company toward crisis resolution, be sure to avoid the following social media “don’ts”:
1. Don’t post pictures of crisis fallout.
The selfie craze seems to have no boundaries, but this is one area where you, as an industry and business leader, should set an example. Showing pictures of yourself recuperating from illness, of empty stores, or of depleted supply shelves are troubling and demoralizing to employees and the public.
This is a time when you must stay positive, grounded, and hopeful; don’t fan the flames of panic with evidence of the crisis at work. Additionally, these posts can be picked up by the media and used to potentially harm your public image.
2. Steer clear of political criticisms.
In pockets of panic, it’s easy to lash out at community and governmental leaders you believe are not doing enough to protect us — or those you believe are not providing accurate information. But this only provides tacit permission for those who see you as a leader to do the same.
This vitriol is neither helpful nor productive and can ramp up tensions very quickly, which makes doing the difficult work of public safety even more arduous. Instead, be sure to share information you know to be factual, current, and applicable to your business/community — and include the source when you share it.
3. Never dismiss or downplay official warnings/directives by governmental agencies.
I’ve actually seen this play out in many upstart small businesses. Most of us are not public health or safety experts; we need to trust those who are to help get us through crises. While it may seem that recommendations like remote work and limiting business hours are draconian responses to something that seems, on the surface, rather benign, there is a reason these actions are recommended by established agencies.
4. Do not encourage extra work as a sign of loyalty.
Crises almost always change the working landscape, forcing businesses to alter hours or pull back on services. Naturally, CEOs fear a drop in profits when this happens — but that doesn’t mean that you can call on your employees to work harder, longer, or off hours “out of loyalty.”
Remember that employment is a joint agreement — one that binds an employee to a business and vice-versa under specific terms. When circumstances change and, with them, the nature of work, more direct communication with employees is required — as is approval from them when your needs change. Social media is not the place to have that conversation or to issue proclamations about “working harder.”
5. Never use “me-first” or “us-first” language.
Effective crisis management requires set channels for clear communication and decision making. However, it should also be understood that the way through any crisis is via collaboration and mutual support. When crisis hits, messaging should always be grounded in the greater good — of the company and of the public.
Any use of language that attempts to separate parts of your business from others or your business as a whole from the general public can foster an “us-vs-them” mentality, ultimately crippling recovery efforts. What’s more, these divides linger long after a crisis has been resolved, creating rifts within your company and your industry that are difficult to overcome and can have serious financial consequences.
Lastly, I’ll make this strong, if obvious, recommendation: If you have a crisis management plan, make it readily accessible to your employees. Do not, however, post it openly on social media; this is an internal document that should be consumed only by employees. When you have information that is ready for the public, share it on your timetable or as best aids in the resolution of the crisis.
Published on: Mar 27, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.