Opinion: Leveraging team social media in a crisis

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TRADITIONALLY, we have seen employees discouraged from using personal social media profiles to engage in subjects seen contradictory to company values, opinions, politics, or religion, or those considered morally dubious, writes Natasha Hatherall-Shawe. The sharp rise in use of various platforms left companies and brands nervous of looking bad in both the eyes of the public or in front of current or potential clients.

Solid PR practitioners know that there is ‘nowhere to hide’ anymore and educate their clients on best practices. If it didn’t feel difficult enough to control, we are now seeing an exploding trend of full tabloid articles and crises created out of historical comments and tweets, along with the more extreme cancel culture – it really doesn’t take ‘much’ anymore.

It’s understandable to want to manage image and perception – it’s what we do. Damage limitation, surely, can be made easier by knowing your employees are simply not allowed to use social media in this way, and having policies that say such.

But we are in the PR industry, and increasingly I can see an advantage to having the opposite policy for employee social media profiles when it comes to managing a crisis.

Employee advocacy, by using their own social media presence to advocate for their employers or brands, can be used to negate negative stories as much as the opposite can be true. 

To harness this, you will of course need the ubiquitous plan. No one likes a contingency plan or even to think a crisis may loom. But loom they do, and it is the unprepared who come out the worst. Pre-agreed crisis communications planning is vital.

Understand where the employees are hanging out online and have an agreed policy as to what a crisis response would be in different scenarios. Of course, in some instances it may be important to have a blanket ban, before damage limitation as part 2.

If employees are bound to share company response or comment on behalf of, make sure that key messages are clearly dispersed. Nobody wants a back track. Transparency and authenticity is key in 2021, but mixed messages reflect badly. An executive team at least would be on the same page.

Again, it’s important to be realistic. Sharing news and updates is going to be useful. If it’s an employee’s own actions or behaviors that are in question, this social media advocacy is not a strategy to leverage. In this circumstance however, senior management and leaders should be prepared to use their own platforms in response. We cannot expect the power of digital to work in our favor professionally, and then run and hide when it doesn’t.

A clear and detailed blueprint is required for your team. Typically, scenario testing works in this instance and a list of approved responses and messaging. Don’t forget, this advocacy can include the personal too. Friends and family members will also start asking questions – especially if it’s a public, or community interest story. We cannot put the onus on them personally to take the brunt, but it helps for them to have the right guide to follow, and to know where to ‘send’ people for further information and responses.

We must also respect people’s privacy. Leveraging our employee’s social media profiles for company gain, publicity or awareness is one thing, but they are not obliged to. The indomitable Carrie Rose of Digital PR agency Rise at 7 specifically hires people with strong online ‘personal brands’ – it’s literally their job to leverage these. However, in a more traditional sphere, unless it is written into contract policy and is non-negotiable, these profiles and platforms remain the property of the individual.

If this is not something you have considered yet amongst your crisis communications planning, it is a must to consider. In the PR industry it’s unlikely you will have a social media shy team, and with planning and thought, it’s entirely possible to work together to leverage the benefits during crisis management, alongside all the positives. At TishTash, we have a typically social savvy team who enjoy sharing client products, wins, initiatives and are general cheerleaders across all platforms. We must always keep the shadow of negativity in mind however – it’s short sighted not to.

Natasha Hatherall-Shawe (or Tash as she likes to be known) was born and educated in the UK, and moved to the MENA region in 2010. She set up boutique beauty and wellness communications agency TishTash in 2012. In nearly 10 years, TishTash has become one of the most sought after and respected independent agencies in the Middle East, using its know how and passion for the latest trends to create campaigns that get brands noticed. This saw the company win PRCA Middle East Best Agency in 2021, with Tash also scooping Best PR Leader.