Maintaining Digital Communities During a Crisis

Oct 23, 2013

Article ImageSocial media stops for no man, but what if resources are suddenly scarce due to an unforeseen crisis? Here are four things you can do to keep digital communities humming along even if the "front office" is temporarily closed.

Spotlight Emergency Information.

 Don't make community members hunt for contact information during this confusing time. This includes call centers which may have been re-routed due to strapped resources. But this could also be new community management handlers, new hours, or phone numbers. Make sure extensions and phone lines (including voicemail recordings) are all updated, and post information on the homepage, wall, or hero image of social media channels. Set up auto-responses to reiterate where the most important information can be found quickly. Don't worry if this changes the look/feel of the page - now is not the time to worry about aesthetics, which you can quickly undo upon return.  

Emergency information should never be difficult to find. Yet too many organizations forget to sync their online and digital channels with the information they are working tirelessly to distribute via traditional channels. Increasingly, people turn to social media first during a crisis, especially real-time channels like Twitter, where phone numbers and updates should be expected - so make sure that information is updated and ready to go before a crisis hits.

Believe it or not, updates about updates are effective.

It sounds duplicative, but sometimes problems take time to solve and your update may simply be that there is no update at that time, but one is coming. People are surprisingly forgiving of organizations the more transparent they are. Something as simple as pointing audiences to a specific time when information will be tweeted, blogged, or live-streamed lessens rising tensions and fears. Just make sure to honor your own deadlines and get the logistics right to mitigate technological glitches. So if tweeting a phone list, website, or emergency information, make sure it is 100% accurate and ready for the surge of traffic to mitigate technological glitches.

Transparency about strapped resources is ok.

Crises are by definition unpredictable, but smart teams plan the best they can for them. This must include a social media game-plan. Make sure you post clear signage on your digital channels if no coverage can be arranged to manage digital communities.  Announce that the community won't be actively managed for the time being as resources are needed elsewhere (e.g., on the front lines).  Most will understand and appreciate the notice especially if information points them to alternative communities or contacts.  Ensure this is also included for auto-responses, as well.

Prepare for Housecleaning. 

Passions run high during a crisis and at some point, your social media channels may become someone's platform of choice to voice their frustrations. Be prepared for such comments and try to mitigate frustration by hitting the points above. Still, if you anticipate a barrage of comments, consider disabling them indefinitely (announcing this action clearly in a tweet/post to the community that you've done so) as your team wouldn't be able to respond anyway. The best thing you can do is make sure you have community rules posted clearly on all platforms, profiles, and groups, reminding users what is and isn't appropriate; reinforcing where users can get more information and when more will become available. What quite often happens is the community begins to self-police; discouraging trolls and abusers - pushing up and out critical information via their own channels.  A simple thanks to these ambassadors goes a long way. Once the crisis dies down, have a plan in place to quickly answer questions and enable comments upon return. When in doubt however, have someone "man the lines" to triage important information, even if only to at say that they appreciate any and all feedback, and are doing the best they can to improve the situation.

Some departments may have not had time to implement the rules above, but there is no time like the present for your digital community.  If your resources were to be suddenly allocated elsewhere during a crisis, check if interim coverage by an agency or partner is possible (double check this is allowed).  If not, make sure you implement the above rules to ensure your community continues to add value to those who rely on it as a resource.

Everybody will feel some impact of a crisis when it hits. When you're busy fixing the issue and leveraging your resources, don't forget about your social media channels and community who may need more clarity and care than ever.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)