Ms. Lutz

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Handling a Crisis on Social Media

By Didi Lutz, President, Didi Lutz PR

At one time or another, we have all seen examples of how positive news travels fast on the Internet, but how bad news travels even faster. With social media entering our world and growing each day, news spreads in an instant. This immediacy inevitably affects your reputation. Being in a vulnerable position of not knowing which way pendulum will swing is an uncomfortable feeling - especially when a crisis hits your hotel. Everyone and anyone have an opinion that is easily shared on social media. That is tremendous power and influence for the public to have over a message.

In times of crisis, as I have written in the past, the main goal was to contain the media. Usually, this was done by implementing crisis management tactics that included press releases, press conferences, advocacy ads and other traditional approaches to shift negative perception. Those days are long gone.

We're in an era where if the PR person cannot create a YouTube video of a CEO in a matter of a couple of hours, or respond with an emergency blog post within an hour or so, the damage to the company's reputation can be worse than imagined. Working against the clock is one of the most important factors in today's crisis management.

One thing that remains the same as traditional crisis management is the essence of pre-planning. With social networks and conversations going on everywhere on the internet, it is important to create, or re-create, scenarios that could affect your property, and come up with proper tactics (and micro-tactics) to tackle the crisis. What is important to keep in mind is to fight back with the same weapons. In other words, if a crisis starts on Facebook with nasty comments from unhappy guests, make sure you engage and address the issue via Facebook - not a press release or a Twitter post, for instance.

Understanding the new rules of the crisis management game is important to protecting your hotel's reputation. Below are some pointers to consider as you put together a social media crisis management plan: Think before you post. This is the advice we usually get from parents and teachers, but it is true for social media crises as well. Be sure you know who will be tackling which posts, on which network, and agree on specific talking points your team will have to stick to. In less formal conversations, we sometimes share more than we should and this can be a trap if your message isn't carefully crafted from the beginning.

Avoid using just one network, but use those that make sense

I would not necessarily recommend you spread the message far and wide to every single network if it is not important enough to do so. But, maximizing your message's exposure and visibility is key and it's important that you understand how connected social networks are these days. For instance, if the bulk of the negative publicity is on Facebook and YouTube, then it does make sense to have an emergency Twitter account, since everything is so linked.

Create a war room to manage the issue

In a time of crisis you expect people to be searching for stories and information on the topic. Be the center of where the information comes from by proactively posting updates and responses to all the social networks that are available to you and make sense to be on. This way, your message will stay intact because you will be the one managing the process and controlling where it goes, and hopefully, how it is perceived. This can be done with recurring, short blog posts, or a Twitter feed, etc.

Play the credibility card and seek help from trusted sources.

The most important thing to do during a crisis on social media is to make every attempt to change the conversation. That does not mean deleting comments from Facebook, for instance. It means calling on your trusted sources to share their view on the issue and act as your ambassadors. It takes time to change people's perspectives, but if you organize your crisis management approach in a way that is concentrated on your point of view, you can influence public opinion.

Hotel employees should play their role.

While you don't want your employees involved in the strategy and containment phase of the crisis, you should solicit their feedback, especially if they notice something on the social networks they engage in. Empower them to share what they see and keep lines of communication open.

Be picky in your responses

Often times the social media game field can turn into a kindergarten playground, filled with name calling and finger pointing. Don't go there. There will always be people posting negative comments that many times hold very little credibility. If a flood of nasty comments pour in, then certainly address the issue right away. But, not every single post deserves a response - you have your brand and integrity to protect, and stooping to a level where it's tit for tat is not a good idea. In fact, responding to kid-like comments that are asking for a petty argument can backfire, because it shows you can't let go and walk away. And that's not what you want in a crisis situation. You should focus on changing the conversation instead.

Engage "off the floor"

In crisis situations where there is bashing on social media, sometimes there are micro groups that lead the battle. For instance, there may be a blogger with a tiny following who can be bashing your hotel left and right. The best way to respond is to invite the blogger for a one-on-one discussion off the public blog if that is possible. It could be a minor issue that was blown out of proportion; whatever it is, you are better off finding out the problems off the internet.

Maintain and communicate your beliefs

Like any business hotels abide by a code of standards and ethics. It's crucial that you don't compromise those during a crisis. Communicating your hotel's value system with consistency on social media will help keep your branding intact.

Monitor - monitor - monitor!

This should be on your PR team's daily to-do list. Monitoring everything on the blogosphere along with all the social networks is key to watching over potential issues that could boil over. Preventing crises is not always possible, but preparing for how to respond begins with monitoring what is already being said about your business. Once a crisis hits, your team will be well equipped as to which social networks should be contacted first, and handle groups accordingly.

Don't make people wait!

It's not a date where you have to follow a three day rule. Making people wait during a time of crisis will backfire. This is true for traditional PR, and any form of external communications. When a crisis hits, it is imperative that you communicate your message clearly and promptly. Making people wait can damage your reputation further because it shows you aren't prepared when you should have been. Social media doesn't have much patience, and nor do the people engaging on them. Be ready when and if that time comes.

Remember that it's about changing the conversation, not eliminating it

Stay as open as possible during a crisis on social media. Of course you may not want to share every detail of an issue, or what exactly went wrong, but the public expects information that will satisfy their curiosity, or anger, or simply their need for gossip. Accept that this is what you are most likely going to face on social networks and deal with it by responding in a smart way. You don't want to enrage people further to post even worse things, nor do you want the conversation to shut down. Your team must figure out how to change the conversation with tactics that shift perception on the issue that caused the crisis.

Yes, we do live in a different world than five years ago. But, it's nice to know that there are meaningful ways to engage with your guests and in real time. While the real time that social networks offer these days can be horrific when a crisis hits, at least you will be prepared to face the worst. With a crisis plan in place and a great team behind you, your business will be ready to tackle any questionable social media post!

Didi Lutz is an internationally acclaimed hospitality public relations professional specializing in boutique hotels, luxury travel, destination and tourism communications. Prior to starting her own business in February 2005, Ms. Lutz was the Director of Communications for the Hotel Commonwealth, a 150-room luxury property in Boston. Within the first year of the Hotel Commonwealth's opening, she established the media relationship that led to worldwide recognition for the property as one of Ten Best New Business Hotels by Forbes.com. Ms. Lutz can be contacted at 561-628-7422 or didi.lutz@gmail.com Extended Bio...

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