Every company of any size inevitably encounters a crisis situation at some point. Today, with numerous social media platforms, a crisis can quickly become very public and spread far and wide - well beyond your local city or even state.
But, the same social media platforms that can help spread a negative story can also be used effectively via employee advocacy to combat a negative story. In this case, we’re defining employee advocacy as working with employees to use their own social media accounts and presence to advocate on behalf of their employer.
What steps can you take to harness the power of employee advocacy for responding to a company crisis?
Have a Plan: Let’s face it. No one likes to take time out of a busy schedule for contingency planning. It’s against our natural instincts. We all want to think that our company will never experience a crisis. That positive, optimistic thinking leads many companies to ignore or postpone writing down a crisis communications plan.
And, when a crisis hits - a product recall, a continuous customer or client interaction suddenly goes public, a video or photo of an employee acting badly spreads virally online, etc. - a company without an agreed-upon crisis communications plan makes a lot of unintentional mistakes as they scramble to respond. While a crisis communications plan won’t take into account every nuance of a future crisis, it will give you a framework and structure to fall back on when a crisis does happen. That plan and framework will help ease some of the inherent stress and chaos of managing a crisis, and it will allow your company’s executives to know exactly what is being done.
Be authentic and honest: If your company decides to use employee advocacy to communicate during a crisis, your executive team must be committed to dealing with the crisis openly, honestly, and authentically. Your company will suffer even more bad PR and a botched reputation, if you have to backtrack and retract information after you’ve asked employees to communicate your company’s response.
Be realistic about employee advocacy for crisis communications: On that note, employee advocacy is not going to be the right decision for every crisis your company encounters. If you’ve mistakenly released a software app that your customers are complaining is almost unusable due to numerous bugs, your employees can communicate your plans for fixes and new, updated app releases. However, if an executive is accused of bad public behavior that is spreading virally, that’s probably not an opportunity for employee advocacy. Use your judgment.
Make it voluntary: Academic research has shown that people form a portion of their self-identity through their work and employment. Many of your employees will welcome the opportunity to share and discuss their company online. But, some employees for whatever reason, won’t be comfortable talking on your behalf. Don’t force it! The last thing you want during a crisis is an employee sharing on your company’s behalf because they’re forced to. You run a huge risk in an unhappy employee making a crisis worse.
Write a clear, detailed communications blue print for employees: If your company is engaged in a crisis, using employees to help spread your side of the story via social media can be hugely powerful, and it can help amplify your company’s own social media platforms. But, social media is inherently NOT a one-way communication platform. You have to plan and be prepared for the inevitable responses that an employee might receive and offer them helpful, detailed guidelines for responding.
Your employee advocacy communications plan can run the gamut. If social media friends, ask about A, B, or C, here’s how we’d suggest that you respond. If your friends ask about D, E, F, here’s how we’d suggest that you respond. And, inevitably, you’ll also need to offer your employees support and guidelines about responding to people who are angry or volatile about your company’s crisis. In some cases, extreme anger can’t be refuted. The employee can point the person to the original company response - and any subsequent responses - and just leave it at that and not engage in an pointless back-and-forth with an angry person.
It’s important to offer employees this structured communications blueprint. Otherwise, you’re leaving employees to improvise and draft responses on their own, and that could lead to even more communications headaches in the long run.
Turn Off Your Social Media Automation During a Crisis: Does your company use some type of social media scheduling to maintain a constant flow of social media messages? If so, you need to turn off your regularly scheduled social media posts during a crisis. If your company is dealing with a product recall that has generated negative press and headlines, you don’t want routine social media messages (that don’t reference the current crisis) published on your social media channels.
These routine messages, if not halted during the crisis, can make consumers or clients think your company is clueless or ignoring a bad situation.
These basic steps combined with having a written crisis communications plan in place can help you use employee advocacy effectively during a crisis. Download the eBook below to get started with employee advocacy.