PR Warfare: Social Media, Crisis Communications, and You


Merry Morud and Kevin Watterson from Aimclear talk crisis communications and community management in our digital world.

crisis management pr plan

Brands and Crisis Communications Plans: How Important Is It?

Hello crisis communications. It’s the day you find your brand in the social media situation room. Now what? Stop the newsfeed, go live on Facebook or start sharing the news? With terrorist attacks in places like Orlando, Florida and Paris, France, Lisa Buyer asked crisis communication experts Merry Morud and Kevin Watterson from Aimclear how important it is for brands to have a crisis communications plan.

Watterson believes on a scale from 1-10 that it’s up there at 10 in importance because it has become the new normal for brands to understand how they need to adapt and respond to crises, especially on social media.

“You have to understand that it’s hard to think clearly and strategically in the midst of a developing crisis,” he said.

Planning ahead, in Watterson’s opinion, gives brands and businesses a chance to anticipate and strategically think about a crisis from a calm and clear point of view.

Morud echoed Watterson’s point of view, elaborating by mentioning that terrorist attacks or crises are no longer just happening to airlines or large businesses with vast buildings.

“If a brand has a social presence, it’s imperative that they have at least some sort of plan in place for when tragedy strikes,” she said.

Advice for Small-to-Medium Sized Businesses

Watterson believes that it’s important for these businesses to put a structure in place, even if that simply means writing out the steps of how to address a crisis. Some answers that should be implemented in this structure include:

  • Who has the authority to post on a social page when a tragedy strikes?
  • Is there anyone who needs to approve posts prior to publication — a boss, a legal department?
  • Who are trusted sources you can quote and rely on when a crisis occurs — a local newspaper, a local police station?

Morud supported Watterson’s view, saying that larger companies already have these sources and guidelines in place, and most likely have a legal team a public relations team and a general communications team. Because smaller businesses might lack these cut and dry divisions, it’s more important for them to develop this crisis communications plan.

“It’s as simple as making sure that posts and promotions are paused in the wake of a tragedy and deciding whether to respond via a post on social media to communicate with your audience during a crisis,” said Morud.


I Don’t Have a Plan and a Crisis Occurs. Help!

Consider if you’re part of an umbrella industry or organization who might have these resources for you. Another expert tip is to research and reach out to any solo agency experts who businesses might be able to contract quickly in the time of a crisis.

Mistakes You Do NOT Want to Make In Your Crisis Communication Plan

One of the mistakes many people make is that you need a detailed plan for everything. Tragedies like bombings, hostage situations, shooting, etc. are not something you want to anticipate or plan for, and having a basic crisis plan detailing who will post and which sources you can trust will suffice for most tragedies.

“You can get into sort of a paralysis by over preparing,” Watterson said.

Morud also notes that continuing to post after a tragedy has struck can make a brand look insensitive, resulting in backlash from consumers. Community Managers need to stay aware and alert during these times that this does not happen. She also said that your communications needs to stay succinct and consistent throughout channels while not seeming callous. “Be careful with your responses so they won’t be misconstrued,” she said.

Not everyone will be aware of all of the information when you send a 140 character tweet, so think twice before you post.

Top Qualities a Community Manager Needs to Survive a Crisis Situation

Foresight and empathy are among the top characteristics.  People get very emotional during crises and normally don’t process information as they normally would, so it’s good to step back and understand how your messages are going to be perceived in these times when emotions are heightened.

Morud emphasizes the importance of not having “knee-jerk reactions” on a social realm because even organic content has the capability to go viral. “Even when you’re not dealing with a crisis, being someone who’s not reactionary is incredibly important,” she said.

Speed vs. Accuracy

Watterson gives a very haunting and serious example: If you’re in an active shooter situation and post that the gunman has been subdued, someone could die if you’re wrong. While this is a severe and extreme situation, it’s important to keep this example in mind when in the middle of a crisis situation. Watterson believes accuracy is more important than speed, and that brands should consider themselves journalists in light of a tragedy.

Morud supports his argument, saying that you have to think of the brand, not just in the next few minutes, but in the next 10-15 years. An inaccurate post during a time of crisis could impact the brand for years.

The Future of Crisis Communications

Buyer notes that most brands are still reacting instead of anticipating or planning for crises.

Morud believes that the title Community Manager is coming with more and more responsibility. While this might have been a role an intern overlooked once upon a time, now-a-days companies need to hire experts to take on this job. “Community Managers are really the front line of the brand,” she said.

She continued by saying that in the future Community Managers need to be cross-trained in communications, public relations, sales, and analytics. Many interactions with consumers in the social sphere are now being done by bots, which means that Community Managers are going to be tasked with other responsibilities and initiatives they might not have had to worry about before. The “heroes” of Community Management, as Morud said, will be the ones who can put processes in place for everything from crises to dealing with internet trolls to rewarding brand evangelists.

Watterson followed up on Morud’s nod to bots and artificial intelligence taking over the more simplistic interactions online by noting that there also needs to be processes and management in place to make sure that Community Managers aren’t missing important messages from consumers that artificial intelligence programs are sending pre-scripted messages to. If a consumer needs help and an AI program responds, and even worse if the consumer doesn’t recognize it’s not a human behind the screen, a message could appear offensive and off-brand.

Advice for Future Community Managers

Try to watch and learn in real-time is Watterson’s advice. Whether it’s how brands deal with tragic situations, or their everyday communication style, learn by looking at how other companies are tackling the digital realm.

Morud believes that very shortly Facebook messages and tweets will be taken over by bots. If you want to be a Community Manager, you need to be thinking three levels above that: What is the plan? What is the communications process? What are your options?

She also believes that Community Managers are going to be tasked with showing how all of their work links to revenue for the brand. In 5 years, social is most definitely going to be tied to the bottom line of a business and the social team will be held to hire standards, so cross-training in other disciplines is becoming increasingly important, Morud said. “This job isn’t going to get easier, though we may have many and plentiful tools that are really smart, this job is going to get harder,” she said.

For more information on Aimclear and crisis communications, click here to read their article, Brands Be #PREPARED! Terrorism & Mass Tragedy Social (Re)Action Guide.


Background on Merry Morud

Merry Morud has been working with Aimclear for eight years. She is skilled in marketing and communications and has worked with celebrities like Martha Stewart and brands like Airbnb. While she previously worked within the social media realm for these clients, she now sits as the Senior Creative Strategist doing audience creation and creative for brands across the digital web. Her favorite tools are TweetDeck, and Socialdraft for smaller brands. Follow her on Twitter @MerryMorud.

Background on Kevin Watterson

Kevin Watterson has worked for Aimclear for about three years and is a Social Account Manager. He previously worked in politics for almost a decade as a Press Secretary and Communications Director. He has dealt with many unanticipated crisis situations in the past. His favorite tools are Tweetdeck and Hootsuite. Follow him on Twitter @KWatt or on LinkedIn.


Image Source: Copyright: studiostoks / 123RF Stock Photo


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