Royal Mail's Contact MagazineRoyal Mail recently got in touch to see if I could contribute a "how-to" article for their Contact Magazine. They were nice enough to let me share the resulting piece, so here are my 6 steps to social media crisis recovery.

1. Listen
It’s absolutely crucial to make sure you are fully aware of what is being or has been said about your business. You may have discovered a Facebook page campaigning against your brand or seen a few negative Tweets, but in order to begin fixing and addressing the problem, you need to know if this is the extent of the problem or merely the tip of the iceberg. There are a huge number of free search tools to help with this, though it is almost always worth paying for professional support to get a full and balanced picture. And listening to what people are saying about your brand in social media needs to be an ongoing process, not something that happens merely during a crisis.

2. Be Open
The process of recovery needs to begin as soon as a crisis hits, and must have honesty and transparency at its core. The power of social media is now such that if a company is discovered trying to hide or bury bad news, this will make the crisis even worse (a phenomenon known as the Streisand Effect). This doesn’t necessarily mean revealing all the problems with your brand, but at the very least, it simply involves being straight about what the problems are and acknowledging that your customers have been inconvenienced.

3. Take Action
When you’re ready to do so, the next step is to show and explain clearly what you’re doing to address these problems. This might mean posting on a blog or a YouTube video where you discuss the issues and outline the steps you are taking. It is also important to make sure this comes from someone suitably senior. But whatever you have to say, signpost it where the criticism has taken place. For example, if your critics are on Twitter, you need to meet them there and engage on their terms. By the same token, a post on the company website that’s not flagged up anywhere else is no good to anyone. Updates need to be ongoing, even after the main crisis has blown over.

4. Reach Out
Reach out to key stakeholders – both detractors and supporters. Find those people who are talking both positively and negatively about the crisis and invite them in to look at what you are doing to change things. People will talk about your brand online anyway, so make sure they have the right facts to hand when doing so. Giving people an opportunity to see things for themselves means they may be moved to comment on and defend your brand, and even generate positive online conversations.

5. Be Consistent
Make sure all the pieces fit together. While you might be dealing with the aftermath of a crisis through social media, it is important to make sure that output in other channels isn’t inadvertently sabotaging these efforts. Whoever is in charge of managing social media for your brand must make sure they know about marketing activity in all other channels in order to prevent mistakes and faux pas. An ill-timed ad campaign or press release can undo all the hard work, and lead to accusations of insensitivity to the issues and of poor internal communications. Consistency can mean pulling social media strategy into other channels too: buying relevant keywords and linking the Google ads to your blog response, for example.

6. Be Prepared
... and look out for the next problem. Of course, once a crisis has passed, it is too late to be told that you should have prepared in advance. But it is possible to prepare for potential crises in the future. Monitoring and engaging with people talking about your brand online is not something that should be done simply to repair a reputation, but something that you can do continuously, through Twitter, Facebook groups and blogger engagement – even when times are good, so that you will have a base of people to communicate with and who perhaps may even come to your aid when times are bad. Ideally, you should respond to both positive discussion and criticism where appropriate in real time.

There's obviously much more that can be said about this topic than the 700 word limit I was given. Please let me know in the comments what you think is important to consider when recovering from a crisis situation?