The Plan is to have a Plan; before you need a Plan

Planning for risk is nothing new.

We all know about risk. We’re taught from the moment we’re mobile not to touch hot stuff or play with sharp things. We’re reprimanded for throwing objects, running with scissors or swimming straight after a meal. As the days of climbing trees, eating ants and using the trampoline as a launching pad into the neighbour’s pool come to a close, we’re introduced to a whole new range of risks – those with consequences:

Didn’t do your homework? You get in trouble at school AND at home.

Forgot to pack your lunch? Hungry is on the menu.

Then there are the ‘now you’re an adult’ risks they probably covered in school, but like any teenager, planning for the risk of not having a social life was far more important:

Money? No one ever told you how many shelves you’d need to stack to buy a car (or the shelves you’d need to keep stacking to keep it on the road).

The Law? Right, best watch out for that … jumpsuits never suited my figure.

Lessons in risk start as a means of teaching us to protect ourselves from … ourselves, then adds in some cause and effect, and is combined with consequences that aren’t enjoyable. We’re still in the business of protecting ourselves from ourselves plus the added complexity of protecting ourselves from each other. BUT; on balance, human’s don’t plan for risk until it has either descended upon them like a plague of locusts (should have put that net on the car earlier) or we just plain figure, like driving past a car accident,  “That will never happen to me…”

Social Media risk is no different.

It’s simple: if your brand, company or organisation is using social media you need a social risk management plan. If you’re not on social media – any offline public relations disaster will likely end up online as well. If you’re not filling the social space, your competitors, detractors and critics will be. The risk of NOT having a voice in the social sphere has a terminal branding prognosis.

Here’s why:

  • By the time your PR meltdown is billowing smoke – the fire has spread. Your clients, your competitors, the media ; they all know about it.
  • People will be tweeting about your #PRFAIL. Photographs, memes and screenshots will be shared on Blogs, Facebook, Tumblr …  your SEO will quickly rank to #1 scandal.
  • The media will have bought some popcorn and are settling in for a good round of social disaster and tweet-intrigue at your expense. Fingers on the keyboard, ready to use your public relations or product failure as the ‘latest’ example of a social media strategy (or lack thereof) gone wrong. The stories will be published in both offline and online media. And online, is where it will stay. Forever. Yesterday’s news isn’t tomorrow’s chip paper – it’s eternally available on Google.
  • Your stakeholders, owners, employees, prospective employees and clients will be watching on in … horror.

How to mitigate Social Media Risk

Social media risk mitigation is about protecting yourself from yourself; and others.

Be socially present. Even if you’re not planning on actively using your social streams – registering and maintaining your @BrandName and Identity across all social streams is essential to prevent opportunistic social identity theft.

Measure the risk of going social versus staying socially silent. Having a small but consistent presence in the social sphere equates to much less time, effort and expense than having to manage an unknown, unfamiliar social environment in a crisis. If your brand, product or company has a socially savvy audience – your competitors are already courting them via their social streams. If you depend on brand loyalty, can you afford not to be socially engaging your audience?

As a sideline – how much money have you spent getting your brand, product or company a perfect, first page Google SEO ranking?

Now consider how much you will have to spend on SEO, again, to ensure the first 3 pages of Google aren’t search results related your social media or PR disaster. SEO recovery is a costly and timely endeavour.

Have a plan: before you need a plan. It’s not a matter of if, but when, you will experience a social-media related event. It could be a hiccup or it could be a full blown disaster. Having a plan before things go wrong is essential to your social, online and offline survival.

A social media risk plan is your #SocialFirefighter for Crisis Communications.

A social media risk plan:

  • Gives you a defined strategy to apply to defined situations to produce desired outcomes.
  • Provides you with quantifiable risk costings : the cost of doing nothing vs. the cost of bad publicity and managing a PR disaster.
  • Provides an early warning of social unrest. This is essential as it buys you much needed time to assess and preemptively act. If you are already socially savvy, it also gives you an early opportunity to limit social fallout – by locking your social streams down. While you can’t get away with hitting the ‘delete’ button on genuine complaints; if your social stream is no longer a G-Rated affair, locking it down and preventing people from posting on your Facebook wall for example (for a time) may prevent the social conversation from becoming a legal, moral and ethical liability.
  • Gives you the ability to immediately manage and monitor the social situation as it unfolds. Playing catch-up isn’t an option when public opinion is flying your product or brand into the hurt-locker at warp speed.
  • Provides you with prepared social messaging and corporate media releases, saving you time, enabling your resources to focus on the crisis and social dialogue.
  • Gives you control over an otherwise uncontrollable event: prevention is always better than a cure – social media is no exception. It’s the simple things, like not registering your social IP that will cause you the most grief and expense in the longer term. You already know what your risks are; or you do as they arise, a little forward contingency planning is time and money well spent. Think of it as social insurance: the excess stings but you’re back in a no-win, no-loss situation quickly.
  • Provides your internal communications team and any external consultants with the ability to practice and prepare – an essential component of any emergency plan is understanding it in practical terms. Preparation will also enable you to iron out any gremlins in your process in slower time, privately.

Can you afford NOT to have a social media risk plan?


*Note from the author; all examples provided in the preamble are purely fictional and do not represent any youthful shenanigans I am willing to admit to.