KEY POINTS:
* Today’s widespread use of social media allows bad news and customer complaints to go viral within a matter of hours
* You need to have a plan for your social media crisis response and the first step is to identify what constitutes a crisis
* Social media monitoring tools can help identify when a crisis is about to hit
* We list 5 key components your plan should include

DEALING WITH A CRISIS is something that all businesses need to plan for. In the case of foodservice, the traditional worst-case scenarios such as a fire in the kitchen, customers coming down with food poisoning or a pest infestation on the premises now have an added dimension — the widespread use of social media, which allows bad news and customer complaints to go viral within hours.
To avert a social media disaster, it’s imperative that you have a social media crisis response plan in place.
The first step in planning your response is to be able to identify when it’s needed - you need to define what constitutes a crisis for your business.
Not every complaint on your Facebook page, every negative review from a food blogger or every unappetising Instagram image of your food is going to cause a crisis.
But if you find five pages in a row of negative reviews about your food on Trip Advisor, or a long series of complaints on Facebook where every customer claims to have received bad service from a particular staff member, or the same problems being aired over and over (long wait times for tables and orders being forgotten or taken down incorrectly are usually at the top of the list) — then it’s time to take action.
A potential crisis is a situation where there is real potential for damage to your business’ reputation and profit. In the case of social media, the claims do not even have to be substantiated to be credible to some readers. By investing in social media monitoring tools , you can get a heads-up when a crisis is about to hit.
Once you’ve identified that a crisis exists, if you already have a plan in place then you’re able to respond immediately and with maximum efficiency. Your plan should include the following components:
1. Assign duties to key staff to deal with the crisis response — who is responsible for deciding what the appropriate response will be? What other staff members need to be involved and what are their duties? Who is responsible for wording social media responses, answering complaints online or contacting customers? Who will respond to questions from the media should the crisis escalate? Do you need to nominate a staff member to communicate with other stakeholders such as management, landlords or suppliers?
2. Ensure your crisis response is appropriate and in accordance with your business brand values — you can’t determine your exact response until you know the precise nature of the crisis, so there’s only so much you can plan in advance. But what you can do is to identify the core brand values and philosophy of your business, so that when a crisis does come your response is in accordance with these. For example, if your business brand is committed to offering value for money and service with a smile, then any crisis which calls this into question needs a response which re-emphasises your commitment to these values and undertakes to solve whatever problems are getting in the way of making this a reality.
3. Wherever possible, be upfront and honest in your communication — any suggestion of insincerity, covering up or a lack of interest in resolving the crisis to the benefit of your customers could be the kiss of death for your business. Therefore, acknowledge the problem to your customers, and strive to be as upfront and open in your social media communication as possible. Conduct internal investigations speedily and when your business or staff are found to be at fault, offer genuine apologies and take action to ensure that such situations can’t occur again.
It’s often a good idea to write up a carefully worded, thorough response to the crisis which you can post on your website and Facebook page as well as link to other relevant social media.
4. Put your regular social media updates on hold during the crisis period — this is particularly important if you schedule posts in advance such as on Facebook, Twitter, or via email alerts or text messaging. It may well be that during the crisis situation it’s inappropriate for those posts to be going out, so at the very least you need to review their content — do not simply continue your social media presence with a ‘business as usual’ attitude during this period.
5. Once the crisis is over, conduct a damage assessment — how well/badly did your plan work and how efficiently did your team respond to the crisis? Most importantly, did any part of the plan actually make things worse rather than better? It’s always possible to learn from your mistakes — but only if you take an honest look at what went wrong. So take the time to examine what was done well and what could have been done better. And remember to thank your team for their hard work in dealing with the crisis — offer praise where it’s due, and seek the input of all team members about what can be done to improve the crisis response next time.

-