Eight Ways to Use Social Media in Crisis Response

The Social Side of a Crisis

By Gary Kimball President, Kimball Communications | February 07, 2016

Social media has become a primary channel for hotels to market their brand and for guests to share experiences, thus controlling and shaping the reputations of hotels large and small every day. In a crisis, social media can be a critical tool for keeping your customer base informed, but also for monitoring potentially damaging opinions and finding a resolution. Social media can help with real-time, responsive communications, understanding followers’ concerns and swiftly allaying them with direct and transparent messaging.

Hotel leaders know a solid crisis management plan is a critical part of strategic planning. When properly deployed and regularly updated, this living document prepares employees across the organization to respond to a wide array of crises and can help save lives and protect the reputation of a hotel.
Hospitality businesses face a range of risks from natural disasters, like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, to more modern disasters like data breaches and acts of terror. Some of the largest hotel brands have been exposed in well-publicized breaches, while terrorist attacks have rocked hotel staff and guests from Boston to Mali.
In any type of crisis, which is by its nature unexpected and fast moving, it is critical to manage communications carefully and exert some level of control over the message. A crisis is a time of uncertainty when media, customers and rumor mills will not wait for all the facts. To control the message and manage communications today, hotels must be able to respond quickly, accurately and with one voice to employees, media, guests and the wider public.

Crisis communications planning involves establishing a spokesperson and chain of command. It is critical to have assigned roles for both incoming questions and proactive messages. And in today’s social world, you must be able to communicate through all channels, which means having a clear plan for managing and monitoring social media.
Social media has become a primary marketing channel for hotel brands. It has also emerged a primary channel for for guests to share experiences, thus controlling and shaping the reputations of hotels large and small every day. In a crisis, social media can be a critical tool for keeping your customer base informed, but also for monitoring potentially damaging opinions and finding a resolution. Social media can help with real-time, responsive communications, understanding followers’ concerns and swiftly allaying them with direct and transparent messaging.
How do you make sure social media is utilized effectively during a crisis? Here are eight recommendations to make effective and efficient use of social media in a crisis communications strategy:

  1. Integrate social media fully in your crisis communications planning. A
    hotel’s social media manager needs an equal seat at the crisis planning
    table to help consider how guest communications and media statements are
    affected by and affect social media communications. When a crisis hits,
    there can be no ambiguities about who will be posting and what they will be
    posting on social channels. This should fluidly and fully integrate with
    media relations, guest relations and any other communications and customer
    service channels.
  2. Clearly define roles for managing the social media platforms. Who manages
    your social media accounts now? Are they capable of performing this job in
    the event of a crisis? Make sure your most senior social media communicators
    are involved so you maintain your brand voice and stay consistent with your
    messaging. Plus, consider all contingencies, including who else has access
    to the accounts in case the primary person is unable to respond. What if
    power is down, and online communications must be made remotely? These are
    all considerations that can be planned in advance.
  3. Don’t play defense exclusively—be proactive in social media communications.
    As in all crisis communications, responding only defensively to criticism
    can backfire and result in negative publicity and tarnish the online image
    you have been working to build. Social media channels can be an excellent
    way to keep guests and others up to date in real-time about emerging events
    and—most importantly—prevent misinformation from spreading.

    Many of the dozens of hotels in Boston’s Coplay Square did an excellent job
    of keeping their social followers up-to-date in the minutes following the
    Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. With attendees desperately trying to
    contact loved ones and cell service unavailable, it was imperative for the
    hotels to engage in the real-time social media conversation to quickly
    communicate with worried guests and reassure their families and friends
    where possible.

  4. Make posts consistent but appropriate. While it is important to have
    consistency in social media posts related to media statements and direct
    guest communications, they must also be appropriate to the conversational
    tone of social media.

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