Tweeter’s Remorse? Develop a Social Media Crisis Management Plan

The Twitterverse was ablaze with commentary on Boston bombing suspect #2’s final moments of freedom. With such intense focus on such a tense event, it’s no surprise that users got heated – at each other.

birds fighting to illustrate social media argument

For a while, I was more caught up in an angry exchange between two popular figures than in the news event. I originally planned to link to the conversation, buy my own moral code prevents it because it’s not necessary, and intuition tells me that both of them would prefer to forget the whole thing.

One person deemed the other’s tweets inappropriate and admonished the behavior. The other person, offended by the admonishment, defended his tweets. A childish argument ensued, leaving them agitated, and seemingly hurt and regretful – in front of all of their followers.

To avoid situations like this, develop a strategy now for dealing with high-emotion events that unfold on social media. You know, like your own version of Mass General’s crisis management plan.

How do you create a plan of action to govern your emotional state?

1. Develop your own moral code and learn it; run through it until it’s second nature.

2. Then decide how you will publicize it. Run through that until it’s second nature.

Develop a moral code by thinking about what’s important to you. This is often harder than it seems. Make sure you’re not really thinking about what’s important to others close to you.

Ask yourself questions. For example, I’ll paraphrase a section from Paul Quinn’s Tarot for Life:

An antique shop accidentally sells a $1200 baseball card for $12 to a customer who knows it’s a “steal.” Later, the shop owner realizes the mistake and pleads with the customer to return the card. The customer refused, claiming the mistake still makes the card legally his.

You should decide who’s right and why.

Two cartoon birds tweet things they regret.

Don’t tweet anything you’ll regret; develop a social media crisis management plan.

Once you’ve figured that out, imagine having a public social media discussion with someone who passionately disagrees with you. What are you willing to say in defense of your argument? What would you be tempted to say that you would regret later? Try role playing (not publicly, of course) with someone who knows how to push your buttons, and discover what comes out of your mouth in battle.

That scenario isn’t exactly a crisis situation, though. You have to start small and build your way up. Next, maybe go on to contemplate your emotional response to a one-person crisis, such as illness. Check out the LA Times article How Not to Say the Wrong Thing for examples.

Once you’ve mastered this, try moving onto a crisis-event conversation. For example, is it OK to post humorous tweets about tragic events? For some people, joking about tragedy is a coping mechanism. Is it OK to judge others and call them out in public? In what situations is it OK to speak your mind openly? In what situations is it OK to stay quiet? You have to decide for yourself.

Train yourself in restraint and rational responses under pressure – if that’s what you want. Maybe your moral code dictates that you speak your truth however you want to. That’s fine, too, as long as your social media posts are deliberate and unregrettable.

This isn’t just for individuals. Companies and brands need to create a social media, especially Twitter, crisis management plan, as well. One hot topic is automatic tweets. If you don’t want automatic tweets published during a tragedy, come up with a plan. If you’re cool with it, that’s fine, but make sure your posts represent your brand as you intend it.

I’d love to know your thoughts in the comment section below.

If you know which Twitter members I’m referring to, please refrain from naming them unless they comment as themselves.

Tracy McCarthy is the founder of Content Newsroom, a website dedicated to helping you get more customers through the quality content that your website visitors deserve and Google demands. A journalist turned Internet marketer, Tracy uses her writing and editing skills to help B2B and B2C businesses succeed with content marketing. She has done work for Content Marketing Institute, SuccessWorks SEO Copywriting, Brookstone and more, and has contributed to Kapost, ISOOSI and other industry-leading blogs.

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5 thoughts on “Tweeter’s Remorse? Develop a Social Media Crisis Management Plan

  1. Tracy, great post.

    Thinking through your response to a crisis in any situation is a good idea. Thinking through your social media response to crisis is even a better idea. Why? Well, to quote the school secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; it becomes a part of your permanent record.

    This week I saw a very well-known blogger and speaker get into a heated exchange on Twitter about the Marathon Bombings. His comments were likely misunderstood, but the real message is, he “went there” and he probably shouldn’t have.

    Stay away from commentary if it is not good for your business. If commentary happens to be your social media persona, then go for it. Otherwise, lay low and you won’t be misunderstood.

    • Thanks for your insights, Al. Well said.

      I think Twitter makes it especially difficult to think through your responses before posting them because the constant activity creates a sense of urgency. Coupled with a tense crisis situation, it’s nearly impossible not to say something regrettable. Of course, these high-profile, delicate events require the most emotional clarity and self-discipline.