How to avoid #socialmediameltdown


Out of hours community management is something of a misnomer. There is no such thing as out of hours anymore and community management implies that online you have an element of control over social media beyond your own accounts. You don’t.

You’ll learn:
•    What constitutes a disaster over social media
•    Why you need to ensure that PR owns social media
•    Practical tips around technique and technology for social media community management and crisis management

I know I’m not alone in my belief that 9-5 is dead; countless academic papers, studies, and articles back me up. The rise of social media has certainly helped fuel this shift, but in my opinion it isn’t the driving force. The driving force has been the mass adoption of the smart phone.

As far as the public is concerned, if your organisation is on social media then they have the right to contact you at any time. This might be an unreasonable expectation, but it’s the reality. Thankfully there are things that can be done to try and shift this more in line with an organisation’s actual offering by highlighting when it is reasonable to expect a response. 

For example, you can clearly state in profile bios the hours in which a channel is actively manned, or put out open and closed style messages - online supermarket Ocado does this very well - but these can only act as guides for the public. 

With that in mind, good practice for social media community management, out of hours operation, and disaster planning are all tightly integrated.

What constitutes a disaster over social media?

Let’s keep it simple; a disaster or crisis over social media is activity causing a negative impact to your organisation’s finances, reputation, or operation. Obviously, as with regular disaster planning, scale has a big impact and it’s no different here.

Common types of disaster

Again in the spirit of simplicity, there are:

1.    Disasters where you are at fault. 
2.    Disasters where you are not at fault.

Personally I believe it is better to think less about fault and concentrate on:

1.    Scale.
2.    Impact.

Does it really matter who is at fault if your organisation is being aggressively and unreasonably trolled and it is having an impact on your bottom line? What matters far more is the scale and impact of the activity and the steps needed to resolve it. 

Accountability and who controls the off button

Dependent on the size of your organisation, its structural set up, and potential posturing by various directors, it is quite possible that social media accounts might not ultimately be ‘owned’ by PR, or even marketing. 

What I’m referring to here isn’t about content direction, it’s about the physicality of whose responsibility the actual technical side of social media belongs to. Who is authorised and able to take a channel offline, lock users out, or change passwords. 

A rather well known high street music retailer suffered when during a meeting to lay off 100s of employees the marketing team live tweeted the whole affair, with no one in senior management with the knowledge to close them down. They didn’t know the account password!

Ultimately ownership does equal accountability and if, for example, the IT Director is insistent that social media belongs within their department, then it is perfectly acceptable to insist that the responsibility is also owned by that person. 

It’s probably important to set out right from the start that good solid crisis management principles still apply to social media, so for me, social media should always be owned by PR. 

With PR leading the overarching strategy for social media management this should filter through into campaign marketing, customer service, IT and so on.

Handling a crisis

1.    Respond and acknowledge directly and swiftly.

2.    Research the facts, decide on level of scale and impact. Is this is a crisis or customer service issue?

3.    Add any crisis specific terms to your monitoring tools.

4.    Respond on the network the crisis originated from, ideally this should be within 4 hours or less and from someone with seniority.

5.    If appropriate take the conversation offline.

6.    If appropriate document the crisis and your response over other channels.

7.    Monitor, review, and adapt accordingly.

Watch for trends and learn from others

JP Morgan made a huge error of judgement back in 2013 in planning the #askJPMorgan hashtag chat on Twitter. As it happens, the chat never went live, because in the build-up to it the account was bombarded with abuse. They had failed to see that the combination of the current negative feeling towards banking combined with the uncontrolled, unfiltered nature of social media might create a hostile atmosphere. 

Given that #askGaryBarlow and #askBoris, about the then London Mayor, both happened post #askJPMorgan, it’s fair to say that they seemed not to have looked and learnt from the actions of others, as in both instances the hashtag chats were completely hijacked. 

Make use of social network guides

Understand the social networks your organisation is on. It’s vital that someone at a more senior level has a good understanding of the functionality, limitations, and security of the networks you use. All the major social networks have good guides on pretty much every facet of their operation - make use of them.

It’s also worth understanding how each of the networks you are on handles your data should you want it. Each of the major social networks allows you to download all the data that you have with them and this is something I highly recommend being familiar with should you need it.

Data collection can be particularly useful should you or your business be faced with legal proceedings following a crisis online; it’ll give you access to every bit of correspondence across social media and could give real weight to your case. 

Devices and security

If you’re asking employees to be available either to handle community engagement or crisis management over social media, try to avoid letting technology restrict them. 

Ensure that work issued devices allow people to access social networks, make sure internet connection is solid, and try where possible to enable people with smart phones. This might mean having some tough conversations about security, but it’s vital. 

It’s also worth considering a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) policy, essentially allowing employees to access the organisation’s social media accounts and profiles from their own phones and devices. It can help keep costs down and also allows people to use devices they are more comfortable and familiar with, something not to be overlooked in a crisis. 

If security is a major consideration use a password manager like They’re secure, cost effective, and have enterprise level control over your login information.

Know what automation you use

Be aware of what social media automation is being run for your organisation and keep it updated in your disaster plan. For example, if you’re auto retweeting a campaign hashtag and it gets hijacked, you need to know how to turn it off.

The teams handling social media should know what automations they are using but a simple way to check is to look at what applications have been given access in the apps or permissions area in settings. If you want a bit of help, I’d recommend the tool. 

Audit and monitoring

If you aren’t monitoring social media there is no way for you to properly assess the impact of a disaster or have early warning alerts in place. If you have the budget, there are countless monitoring solutions out there. At the very least make sure you have Google Alerts, Talkwalker Alerts, or Social Mention set up. Plan out potential crisis phrases in advance and if a crisis happens make sure you update your monitoring tools with any crisis specific terms.


Stephen Waddington’s has many, many more!

Nathaniel Cassidy is Managing Director of independent marketing agency, 3ManFactory. He has over 10 years experience in marcomms and is an active and vocal member of the UK PR Council. He is also Chairman of the PRCA North West Group. 3ManFactory are the agency that other agencies turn to when they need to upskill their social media knowledge.

Twitter: @nwcassidy