It's Time to Update Your Social Media Crisis Communication Plan

If the past two and a half years have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected and keep our social media crisis radar on high alert.
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Your most loyal guests and potential first timers are back in their offices, finally booking international flights, and making indoor reservations at restaurants they’ve only seen on social media. Whether the feelings are real or uncertain, the pandemic certainly feels as if it’s in the rearview mirror. 

That doesn’t quite mean you can shove that social media crisis comms plan back in a drawer until the next pandemic. We are living in a “new normal,” where unpredictable and unfortunate events, from rising gas prices and new virus variants to gun violence and heated political debate, can happen without warning, resulting in an immediate change in the hospitality industry. 

If the past two and a half years have taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected and keep our social media crisis radar on high alert.


In our experience managing social media through a crisis, each event follows a similar curve. Along that curve, messaging protocols will change from business as usual, to active crisis messaging, to recovery, before going back to business. It’s important to power your decisions and understand how to make these transitions using social data. Changes in volume of conversation and sentiment, among other insights, helps determine when and how to respond.

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What made messaging during COVID-19 so challenging, was being stuck in what felt like an endless loop between active crisis messaging to recovery and back again, as new variants emerged, public opinion changed, and governments rolled out (then rolled back) local mandates. 

Because every crisis is unique, establishing a nimble set of response guidelines, communication protocols and best practices will allow your social media team to act quickly, without being insensitive or disrupting emergency communication. 

From our experience building — and in many cases implementing — these plans, here are four steps to add to your crisis plan in order to prepare your social team to respond to a variety of scenarios. 

1. Detect

Social media is often the frontline of crisis detection, as users turn to social channels to seek information, share reactions or grieve. Using social management platforms, listening tools or by simply leveraging the intuition of your community managers, keep a bead on irregular changes to post engagements, unusual spikes in volume of conversation around certain hashtags or keywords, rising negative sentiment in key markets or geographics, and set up channels to monitor breaking news or other official emergency communication channels.

2. Assess
Crises come in many forms — natural disasters, terrorist attacks, political unrest or mass casualty events, to name a few. Once a crisis is detected, the assessment phase allows decision makers to categorize the incident by its specific attributes: event category, geographic radius and impact. Designing a framework and definitions for each level of crisis allows consistency in responses internal stakeholders can support. 

Look back over the year, or even just six months, and compare your social media responses to various events. For which event did you go dark? For which event did you stay live, but modify your content? Use these past examples as yardsticks to set boundaries for future response protocols.

3. Respond

Crisis situations can be difficult to define, and each scenario is unique. Furthermore, not every crisis will require an official response. Therefore, once you have identified and defined the crisis, step three calls for categorizing the crisis into three tiers which dictate the actions and level of response required. Set parameters on what it means for your organization to “stay live,” “modify” or “go dark” and then outline what changes need to be made to your channel objectives, content, paid media and engagement strategies at each level. Again, it’s not about coming up with a pre-crafted response to every scenario, but rather, drawing from a smaller sandbox to help your crisis team get out in front, faster.

4. Monitor + Adjust 

After a crisis event occurs and the appropriate response protocol is deployed, it is critical to monitor reaction and sentiment to that response. By measuring sentiment, the volume of conversation and the changing facts about the crisis, your community manager should determine if a crisis event has intensified, settled or remained the same prompting a change or continuation of the response protocol.