Social Media Crisis Readiness and Communication Strategies

There are varying opinions today about the value of social media. Some say it sucks up time and some say it’s a magic pill. But one thing is certain: it has disrupted the way we communicate, whether we use traditional media or new media.

A 24/7 news cycle challenges the crisis readiness and communications status quo. Organizations can no longer take their time evaluating messages and data only to craft a news release that goes out just before the media deadline. The latest data from Social Habit found that 42% of consumers complaining in social media expect an answer in sixty minutes.

The speed of crisis and emergency information on social media is blinding. Nimble organizations need to constantly monitor their mentions on digital channels just to stay ahead of the negative swarm.  The CFI Group’s  Contact Center Satisfaction Index report showed that more brands are using social media to counteract negative customer complaints.

What if there was a way to decrease your chance of a crisis by using the power of social media to build an army of advocates for your brand? Would you pay attention? Because crises cost money, it would seem prudent to employ methods of crisis readiness and communication that could lessen your losses in the long run.

How Do Advocacy Strategies Differ?

Social media advocacy strategies are designed to engage people at a higher level than likes and follows, and even go a step beyond developing influence. The biggest difference between an influencer and an advocate is the issue of trust. Although influencers generally have a wide reach, their power is defined by the size of their audience, not the likelihood that they will recommend or defend you.  An influencer’s motivation is growing their audience size, an advocate’s motivation is helping their friends.  This presentation from Ant’s Eye View in Seattle does an excellent job of explaining the differences between the two (start on slide 17).

Altimeter’s Social Media Readiness Report  concluded that advanced companies implement specific crisis readiness social media behaviors that elevate them above their peers. One of the most important conclusions of the report was that “enterprise-wide response strategies (social media) enable rapid customer engagement.” The brands that regularly implemented those strategies experienced less crises than brands that did not.

Advocacy strategies build engagement

In the book Brand Advocates, author Rob Fugetta shows that advocacy strategies not only build an army that comes to your aid in a crisis, they also increase demand and sales, amplify positive word of mouth, and increase growth. Advocacy strategies elevate every operation from prospecting to acquisition.

To use social media jargon, advocacy strategies and engagement strategies are basically the same. The difference is that advocacy strategies are specifically designed to create loyalty, whereas engagement strategies can include acquiring likes and follows, neither of which is very effective at creating loyalty. If your social media strategies are designed to only increase your audience or get your content shared, they are not creating loyalty.

Why Should I Spend Time Developing Advocacy Strategies?

Social media isn’t an emergency envelope we tear open when crisis hits. Its real power is in building advocates now that will come to your aid in the event of a crisis. In the e-book, Listen, Engage, Respond, I listed four key benefits of implementing loyalty strategies now:

  • Build a corps of invested ambassadors that will advocate for your brand in the event of a crisis.
  • Identify and cultivate goodwill conversations with key influencers and watchdogs who can extend your reach in a crisis.
  • Develop working relationships with media representatives in the social space.
  • Develop an experienced social media strategy and staff before crisis hits so the brand won’t appear a novice or “pretender” in the social space in the event of a crisis. Communities don’t mind doing you the favor of advocacy in crisis if you have nurtured the relationship already.

What Do Advocacy Strategies Look Like?

Loyalty strategies have a common thread: they add value.  Simplified, adding value has three tactics:  give nods, give gifts, solve problems. It’s not about you or what you want the customer to hear.  This model requires you to dig deep and find out what your customers really need. It also requires you to admit that if you can’t meet their needs, you can recommend someone who will.

Give nods

Customer satisfaction stories, thank yous, links to outstanding brands—these are all examples of how to give nods.  AT&T put together a highly successful campaign of thank you videos on YouTube. It’s an inexpensive way to draw attention to your supporting fans. “Fan of the week” campaigns would also be a good example here.  Also, draw attention to your fans that solve the problems of other community members.

Give gifts

Who doesn’t love coupons? But there is a caution here. A Constant Contact consumer survey   found that the majority of people follow brands in social media to receive discounts and deals. The missing link in this research is that there was no correlation to engagement levels. We know we can hook people with promises of discounts and freebies, but does that “added value” foster growing loyalty? My husband loves to buy anything on sale, whether he needs it or not.  The value, for him, is in the discount, not the brand. To connect gifts and loyalty, make sure your gift solves a problem for your fans.

Solve problems

American Express has developed a large group of invested fans in their OPEN Forum which concentrates on solving problems by interest and need. It allows small businesses to connect immediately with people who have similar needs and situations. Also they enlist experts to write articles and answer common questions for small business owners. This can also be as simple as an FAQ section on your website, or a customer-powered problem solving community like Adobe has. It could be a blog that doesn’t promote your products, but how-to pieces about problems your products solve.

Find the sweet spot of value for your fans, and design content and rewards that hit that spot. That may be a combination of discounts, shout-outs, problem-solving, crowdsourcing, reward points for buying or recommending products, success stories, or many other options. Even though value-adding takes a lot of research and work, it pays the highest rewards.

Social media success can increase your bottom line, not just by selling more widgets or booking more customers for your services, but by keeping you proactive in the space to spot negative events brewing before they happen, and by building an army of loyal advocates who will help you if a crisis hits.

Chris Syme is principal at, a consulting firm in Bozeman, Montana. Her agency specializes in reputation and crisis communication services including online crisis monitoring and social media training. Find out more at She is a frequent conference presenter on the national stage in the areas of crisis communications, reputation recovery, and social media advocacy program. She is author of the book Listen, Engage, Respond – Crisis Communications in Real-Time.

MissionMode’s smarter mass notification and incident management applications enable organizations to take control of crises, and reduce the time and cost of the response. Contact us today for more information or to schedule a demonstration.