Ten Zen Principles for Managing a Social Media Crisis

I know what you’re thinking: what could a school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in 6th century China possibly tell us about managing a social media crisis? Allay your scepticism, oh well informed one, for the path to enlightenment must begin from a place of doubt.

NB: I don’t really know much about Zen Buddhism; I just thought it’d jazz up this post a bit!

Zen practitioners strive towards satori, or enlightenment – the comprehension of one’s true nature or essence.  In a social media crisis one strives simply towards the outcome that causes the least damage to one’s brand.

But we must remember that social media is a conversation, a dynamic two-way exchange between brand and audience; and that a brand really only exists in the imaginations of its audience.

Form is emptiness; and emptiness is form.

To truly know one’s brand then, one must truly know one’s audience.

And once one truly knows one’s audience, one gains the understanding that what may seem at first to be a social media crisis is, in fact, a social media opportunity.

The mosquito biting the iron bull

The chief mistake many brands make in social media crises is to attempt to enforce control over that which is uncontrollable. Social networks cannot be tamed. It is in the nature of a mosquito to bite and it is in the nature of an iron bull to be unbiteable.

One must realise that one’s task is futile; that one cannot ‘win’ a crisis through acting but one can act; and that one’s actions will determine the image of the brand that the audience is left with after the crisis is over.

1. When the task is done beforehand, then it is easy

Be present on all social networks and monitor your brand mentions on each.

Establish a crisis team who will be ready to act when a crisis arises; even outside of regular hours.

Foster brand champions – people who might come to your defence when you are attacked.

2. Not every crisis is a crisis

A good social media policy will ensure that your community managers and customer services team know how to respond to complaints and grievances without the need for escalation.

But documents that are too prescriptive will result in hollow sounding platitudes. Provide principles rather than rules so that your people can employ their natural human empathy.

3. Eternity in an hour

When an issue does need to be escalated to the crisis team make sure they’re ready to act. A crisis nipped in the bud is really no crisis at all.

4. Empathy is the highest form of intelligence

Don’t antagonise or incite complainants with robotic responses. Compassion and human feeling are sometimes enough to neutralise a crisis of customer service. Use humour if it’s appropriate but be aware that it doesn’t help in every situation.

5. Clap with both hands or no one will hear you

Choose the right channel and form for your response.

Often responding on the platform where the crisis originated is most effective but if coverage has spread to other channels it may be best to respond where you will reach the largest audience.

The more senior the person who delivers the response the more effective it will be.

Be sure to direct the original complainants to the response.

If the crisis has generated its own hashtags use them, where appropriate, to further reach.

6. Control is an illusion

Delete your own accidents swiftly but attempting to delete or hide others’ negative comments often backfires.

7. What starts online doesn’t need to end online

Some complaints can’t be dealt with on social media. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or write an email. If someone has complained on social media several times they’re probably in need of more personal contact.

8. Does the left hand know what the right is doing?

Keep your stakeholders informed as the crisis unfolds.

Employees might have their own social media profiles where they identify themselves as being affiliated with the brand. Make sure they’re aware they could get pulled in and know how to respond.

Customers should also be kept informed of internal processes – reassurance that you’re aware of problems and are dealing with them can do wonders to dampen a fire.

9. Speech is blasphemy, silence a lie

Don’t assume one official response is all that’s needed. If your audience still have concerns provide further content to address those concerns and be sure to point people at it.

A conciliatory gesture (e.g. a donation to a relevant charity) can also help to combat negative sentiment. As long as it’s done humbly.

10. When anything negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it

Document the crisis for future reference and training.

Take time to examine what happened: what went well? What could have been dome better? Do your social media guidelines need updating?

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