Using Social Media During a Crisis

By Erin Black

Several weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, one of our local branches experienced a robbery. Thankfully it happened quickly, and although the employees were shaken, everyone was unharmed.  As in any similar scenario, our bank security team instructed the employees not to talk about the robbery, to ensure that the police had every opportunity to perform a successful investigation.

That evening, scrolling through Facebook, I noticed an employee’s personal post and thought, “I need to send out an email Monday morning.” This post, linked to the news story, read:

“So Scary! Glad everyone is physically okay!  What a jerk!!”

Not bad, right? The post was shared from a local news site by an employee on their own personal site.  And, then it started.

The comments…the discussion…and finally the unintentional release of important case details that could most certainly impact the investigation.

Clearly, I needed to send out that email sooner.

Our employees are seasoned bankers, who have the respect of our clients and the community. But when something attacks one of your own, it is in our nature to comfort and protect.  Twenty years ago, these details were quietly released across a kitchen table with two cups of coffee, but today, Facebook (and other social channels) serves as our community.  We cannot be surprised that our employees type across the kitchen table, instead of talk.

Does your bank’s crisis management plan include the use of social media in a crisis? Does it include your employee’s response to crisis in social media?  Mine didn’t.

How Do You Use Social Media During a Crisis?

We don’t know what’s coming, that’s why it is a crisis. Prepare yourself and your financial institution by including answers to the following questions in your crisis management plan:

1. Who is your social decision maker?

Crisis happens. Do you respond on social media or do you stay silent? Who from your organization decides? At my bank, the President and I (Marketing Director) make the decision, and the majority of our decisions are made well in advance. Our Marketing department has a detailed plan on how to respond to weather, closings, departing employees, robberies, and even deaths within the bank or the community. If the crisis does not fit a standard mold, than the bank President and I confer quickly. Make the decision quickly, even if you choose not to respond. I rarely post about robberies or crime, but I will go to the local news sites and thank the local police for their efforts. Thanking our local police, firefighters, or snow plow drivers has never gone unnoticed by our community.

2. What channels will you use? 

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube, Vimeo, Pinterest, SnapChat – What channels do you have a presence on? Remember that the online conversation is not limited to your following on a specific channel. If the majority of your followers are on Facebook, include this channel in your public communications, but know that the community will be using the other channels to talk about you.

Tailor your message to the channel and consider the season and the audience. A winter weather closing doesn’t seem as bad when the bank is posting snow-day pictures on Instagram or “10 soups for a Winter Day” on Pinterest. According to CNN, February 2015 was the “snowiest month in Boston’s history.” During this period, a study performed by Localytics said that personal shopping on sites like ebay increased nearly 37% on snow days. That’s probably worth a post or two. List your channels and know when you want to use them. Don’t forget internal channels like online banking, ATMs, and your website. Are you using Constant Contact or an email marketing platform? This is a great way to speak only to your customers and not the general public.

3. Who will monitor your social channels during the crisis?

Sometimes a crisis changes our routine. Systems are down, power is out, or …worst of all…an entire department is out with the flu. Hopefully, your bank’s social media policy identifies who monitors your social community. You should have a back-up for your back-up, for your back-up.

4. Most importantly, what will you say?

My bank has pre-planned messages for the standard crisis. I copy, paste, and add something timely to make it relevant. There are lots of events you don’t see coming, but having your social decision makers (see #1) standing by will make the difference. It’s not worth saying if you say it too late.

Jay Baer, President and CEO of Convince and Convert, suggests responding to crisis questions with a link, instead of an answer.  Baer’s Crisis FAQ landing page includes the following:

  • Acknowledgement of the Crisis
  • Details about the Occurrence
  • How the Company Found Out & Who was Alerted, When, & How
  • Specific Actions Taken in Response
  • Real or Potential Effects
  • Steps Taken to Prevent Future Occurrence
  • Contact Information for Real People at the Organization

These details are not appropriate for every crisis, but many are.  This list could be used in a letter to customers about fraud or to prepare for an event that you can foresee.

How Can You Control Your Employees’ Response During a Crisis?

The best way to prepare your team is to train, reinforce, remind, and train again. The email that I sent after the robbery will not be considered in a different type of crisis in 6 months, if we don’t continually train our team. My bank requires an annual Social Media Policy review, but we are specifically training our teams on the impact of digital communication.  Our efforts are focused on the following questions:

1. Should you share it? 

We ask our employees to please consider the impact that a ‘share’ could have on our organization and branches.  Banks are built on trust and if an element of fear is introduced, it could deeply damage the brand. Additionally, we don’t want to put a target on our organization, or a particular employee, for future criminal endeavors. We remind them that their posts are public, no matter how secure they believe their social site to be.

Most importantly, we teach employees that a ‘share’ or a ‘retweet’ invites comments about the event on their personal page. That employee has set the stage for conversation, and it is not a conversation that our employees should initiate. From my experience, discussions like these quickly spiral downward.

2. Should you say it? 

One employee shared the robbery article and added this comment:  “My thoughts and prayers are with the branch employees. We need to get this guy!”  Yes. We need to get this guy, but we have no idea who he might be connected to through social media.  We ask our employees: Do you really want your name/information to be associated with that comment?

Additionally, my bank reminds employees that they cannot discuss details of any type of criminal situation. Sharing details linked to an investigation could put information about our practices/routines in the wrong hands, inaccurate information could derail the investigation, and discussions regarding customer safety could terrify our customers or potential customers.

3. What should you say?

Before our employee starts any online conversation, we ask that they consider the following items, in any type of scenario:

  • Does this post or comment negatively impact my reputation?
  • Does this post or comment negatively impact my organization?
  • Social media is 100% public. Are you comfortable with the public seeing your post or comment?
  • Am I negatively targeting a customer or potential customer with my post or comment?

If our employees have questions about their online conversation, we encourage a dialogue. The internet is talking whether or not we’re listening.

The key for our institution is establishing boundaries for success. If I had trained our employees before the robbery, we could have had a directed social campaign thanking our local law enforcement.  If I had trained our employees before our competitor’s fraud crisis, all of our employees could have shared fraud prevention tips from our bank on the day of the competitor’s incident.  If I had considered the impact of social media the day we named our new President, I might have posted on Facebook first, before releasing to the media, to show the importance our bank places on our online conversation.  We aren’t prepared, I wasn’t prepared.  If you’re not prepared, you cannot move fast enough for the social community.

With all of these tips, remember that we’re talking about a pivotal moment. In the crisis, the situation either deteriorates, remains the same, or improves.  So many of our plans focus on maintaining our current position – but what if social media could not only help avoid the crisis, but actually improve the situation entirely.  If we take the time to train our employees for the worst, this conversation has the potential to be the most successful campaign of our year.

Erin Black is Vice President/Marketing Director at Old Point National Bank in Hampton, Va.  E-mail: [email protected]

Online training in digital, mobile and social media from ABA.