Creating A Social Media Crisis Comms or Incident Plan (Anna Ellis)

Anna Ellis

There are many things that could happen inside and outside your organization that might affect your social media activity. This could include a terrorist attack, the death of a significant individual, or an event specific to your organization, like a fire in your head office, a data breach, or a service outage.

When something unexpected happens, it can be hard to think–so do ‘future you’ a favor and prepare a crisis comms or incident plan in advance.

The Plan

A comprehensive crisis communications plan can be huge, with lots of actions for people all over the business, but what I’ve outlined here is just one piece of that: these are actions specific to your social media channels.

Every crisis plan will be different–specific to the people involved, what they use their channels for, and how they manage them–but here I’ve listed some things you might want to include when putting your plan together.

Whose responsibility is it to complete the actions in the plan?

This first thing in my plan is a section on who is responsible for implementing the plan. On my team, it’s me, but I can’t always be available; what if I’m sick or on holiday? So, I’ve named 2 other members of the team who have access to everything they need and know what they’re doing.

There should be enough people to provide backup, but not so many people that they’re not sure who is responsible for what. My plan specifies the order of responsibility: if I’m not available, Person B is responsible; if Person B is also not around, the job falls to Person C.

Make sure everyone named has access to any necessary platforms. Depending on how you manage your content, that might be your social media management tool or access to each of the native platforms. If you run paid ads, they’ll need access to those as well.

Look at the content that you have scheduled

Consider if you need to delete any scheduled content. This will depend on what kind of crisis or incident you have on your hands, but I’d recommend un-scheduling everything until you know what you’re dealing with. If you decide not to stop all social posts, double-check your copy and images to make sure nothing could potentially be misinterpreted as being in bad taste.

Make sure you mention which platforms the person responsible should be checking. If you keep a social media content calendar that shows what content is planned, include that, too. Include links to anything you can so that the user has everything at hand.

Pause any paid ads

If you use paid ads, you will probably want to pause those, too. Include links to the ads managers for each platform with instructions on how to switch them off. If some people on the responsibilities list aren’t familiar with these pages, include screenshots to help them navigate their way through.

Who else needs to know?

Are there any other teams that use your social accounts? For example, we have a customer service team that responds to customer inquiries via Twitter and Facebook. Let any relevant teams know the situation and advise them if they should continue to use the platforms.

Give them an indication of how long the situation is likely to continue and commit to sending them regular updates if needed.

Report back

Make sure that you report all actions considered and completed to the wider team, senior leaders, and anyone else who needs to know.

What do you need to tell your followers?

For this bit, you’ll usually have some input from others–for example, a senior member of the organization or a press officer (or maybe that’s you, too?). If the incident is specific to your business, you’ll usually want to tell your followers what has happened and if they need to do anything. Try to get some guidance from someone senior on the organization-wide message. You want to make sure you know the facts before you update your channels.

If the incident isn’t specific to you, you can usually stay quiet until it has passed. Before starting regular social media activity again, discuss it with a senior colleague to check that you are good to go.

What else?

Once you’ve finished your document, share it with everyone involved so they know what’s expected of them (and to see if they might have thought about something you’ve missed). Keep the document you’ve written somewhere where it’s easy to find–I’ve added a link to ours from the Teams chat that my team regularly uses so we can get at it really quickly.

Check in on the document at least once a year. Has any of the team left? Have you changed the platforms you use? Update it and reshare it with your colleagues to remind everyone about the plans you’ve put in place and make sure any new colleagues are aware of it.

Anna Ellis @AnnaEllis
I’m a creative communications professional with social media and content design skills. I love writing clear and engaging copy for websites and social channels, creating images and GIFs for the web and editing video.