Preparing for a crisis: our simulation event in London - The Social Element

Preparing for a crisis: our simulation event in London

In a crisis you want to be as prepared as you possibly can. You’ve got your crisis plan, complete with holding responses. The team know their roles and responsibilities and your social channel strategy is in place. But do you know how this will play out on social with your consumers?

The answer is to practise, practise and practise. You can rehearse a crisis simulation to strength test your social crisis approach. And this is what The Social Element did on Wednesday by inviting 30 senior marketers, crisis comms and social media experts to participate in a crisis simulation.

Using Polpeo’s crisis simulation software, attendees experienced how a crisis would break and spread over social networks, blogs, news sites and other media. And with a live team of role players behind the scenes responding as the general public, it was the closest thing to a realistic crisis, but all done within a safe environment.

Our five teams were told they were a fictional brand’s crisis team for the day, and it was their role to protect the brand’s reputation as accusations emerged of sexual harassment by a senior executive. The teams were tested on how they managed social comments on the brand’s channels, media enquiries, digital news and also a boycott page asking people to stop supporting this company. Oh, and to add a bit more pressure, we scored them on their abilities to control the crisis!

It was interesting to watch how teams behaved, as while there are some commonalities, each took a different approach.

One team decided to attempt to control the crisis, by proactively responding to individuals on its branded social network page. It decided not to post a broadcast message that could potentially alert people not aware of the crisis. In contrast, some teams posted up a corporate statement immediately after the news had broken by former employee on the micro-blogging site, which caused a massive spike in the volumes of comments by users. One team deleted all mentions of the former employee accused of the sexual harassment to protect their name (although it was all over the media, the team felt the individual should be protected until the allegations were proved).

One common theme we saw across all the teams was their planning. Each team was able to document their strategy, the steps they would take, communicate the values and key messages and a desire to make sure that sexual harassment was not taking place within the organisation.

The key to managing a crisis on social is to ensure that all this planning is communicated clearly on social. This is so the general public can see what you are doing. During the planning stage, it is important to get a holding response published on your social channels. It doesn’t have to be on every social channel you have a presence, but where the most concerned customers are commenting. And the holding response has to be fit for social ie: no corporate jargon or acronyms and show genuine and human empathy for the current situation.

And of course, don’t forget your employees. All the teams communicated well with employees, asking them not to talk to any journalists or post on social, and to talk to HR if they had been affected. Some teams held workshops. One team made the workshop attendance compulsory, while another set up an employee assistance programme.

Following the simulation, the feedback from the teams was that they felt pressured, overwhelmed and stressed. Some of the attendees had already been through their own crises and said the simulated environment was similar to how they felt during the real thing. They realised the importance of being prepared to ensure their speed of response and ability to triage and respond to the volume of comments.

Thank you to everyone coming along on Wednesday and participating in the simulation. This is definitely one of the areas of my job that I enjoy,  helping teams work through how best to manage a crisis on social. And it is all about practice, so that when the crisis hit, you are as prepared as you can be by instinctively knowing what to do and how to behave.

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