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4 tips for managing a social media crisis
March 11 2013

Having a prepared plan for managing a social media crisis can make all the difference, sources said.

  • A social media crisis can escalate quickly and could do serious damage to a hotel’s reputation.
  • Every social media policy should have a crisis-management component.
  • Be as honest as possible with the company’s social media following in the wake of a crisis.
By Samantha Worgull
Associate Editor, Reader Engagement

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Having a social media policy in place with a crisis-management component is imperative when it comes to managing a social media crisis, sources said during a recent “Crisis Management in Social Media” webinar.

Daniel Craig, a former hotel GM and founder of Reknown, a company that specializes in marketing, social media and reputation management strategies for hotels, said the crisis management should entail who is responsible for managing the situation, what his or her duties are and how to reach the person during off hours.

Many hoteliers have worked to put such policies in place, but that doesn’t mean hotels are not susceptible to social media crises on a daily basis. For example, last year an incident at a hotel in Texas garnered media attention after a disabled veteran said he crawled down three flights of stairs because the hotel’s elevator was out of service. Craig said that despite the brand’s stellar reputation, there was still a brand-wide boycott.

Jon Paul Buchmeyer, digital media strategist for Hawkins International Public Relations, a PR agency that specializes in lifestyle, luxury and travel PR, provided these four tips to help better manage a social media crisis.

1. Be prepared
A social media crisis can escalate quickly and could do serious damage to a hotel’s reputation. It can be a defining moment for the hotel, Craig said, so how hoteliers respond makes all the difference.

“There’s no time for bureaucracy,” he said. “You need to bring in the experts (such as) senior management, the public relation firm and the legal team.”

Buchmeyer added that it’s important to include owners by letting them know specifically what the crisis-management plan entails.

“Even if you have an offline crisis plan, make sure all your stakeholders that would be involved in the crisis understand what happens in the online and offline world too,” Buchmeyer said.

2. Be prompt
Responding quickly to a social media crisis can be a slippery slope if there is not a prepared plan in place, sources agreed.

Hoteliers should be cautious of employees who have deviated from the plan and taken it upon themselves to respond to guests, Craig said.

“Companies should have guidelines for employees and administrators,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is protect your brand against reputation breaks.”

Craig added that hoteliers should change passwords regularly to help curb internal breaches, especially before dismissing an employee.

3. Be honest
It is extremely important to be honest on the company’s social media following a crisis, Buchmeyer said.

“The community can smell a rat,” he said. “The more you can reveal, the better. This is very different than old-world crisis where you could put out a statement and walk away.”

The best way to be transparent is by placing clear guidelines on the company’s Facebook page and other social media pages on what posts are acceptable and what posts are not. On personal pages, Craig said employees should be transparent about who they are.

4. Be engaging
One way to show that a hotel is listening and responding to a crisis is by engaging with supporters, Buchmeyer said.

“Showing that you’re listening to people and supporting them encourages supporters to come in and be on your side and help diffuse the situation,” he said.

Engaging with the hotel’s social media following can also help curb rumors circulating about a specific property or location. For example, “Cancun is Safe,” an independent project to help spread the word about facts and figures on safety in Cancun and Mexico, was created by Camilo Olea to help bring tourists back to destinations in Mexico that were presumed dangerous because of the drug wars.

Buchmeyer said it helps to bring advocates, who are part of the attack, into the solution. “Having them a part of the solution can help decrease what’s going on,” he said.

For a crisis-management team, knowing when to remove a negative comment is a complicated task.

“In general, I counsel people to leave the post there if it’s not inflammatory,” Buchmeyer said. “The recovery from a service hiccup is the most important thing. There are situations where you want to be really clear on why you’re taking things down. For example, if they’ve had a run in with one your employees and they’re revealing that info.”

Lastly, Buchmeyer offered these tips for an official response:

  • Take control of or at least influence the message
  • The message should be from a senior executive
  • Offer a sincere apology
  • Answer the questions people have
  • Choose one medium
  • Speak to credentials
  • Rally supporters; their word will have more impact than brand messages.
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