Early in my tenure as Vice President of Global Communications for InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, I was tasked with taking each General Manager, Director of Sales and Marketing and PR Manager through one-on-one crisis communications training. Together with a crack team of professional trainers which included print and TV reporters who put each person through live interviews, we embarked on a global training roadshow. Interestingly, this was conducted before social media was even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye. And while the means by which we communicate, share and gather information have changed dramatically, the foundations of managing communications in the event of a crisis remains the same.
Here are 6 essential preparation considerations for hotel social media crisis management.
Be Prepared. A full-blown crisis doesn’t happen often, but when it does you’ll want to have your crisis plan ready to go, and the plan must include a detailed action plan for social media. With social media you have even less time to react than with print, online or broadcast news media, and if you do not assess and take action immediately (which typically means join the conversation and engage), the conversation goes on without you, often spiraling out of control quickly.
You must be prepared with specific, detailed protocol in advance for social media management in a crisis. This protocol must include statements/comments prepared, approved and available, as well as a crisis team in place with clearly defined roles. I suggest a contact list with all department heads’ mobile numbers as well as hotel, corporate and regional PR personnel and social media managers, along with password information for all digital/social media accounts to keep saved in a smartphone or printed and laminated in their wallet. Because crisis situations happen at all hours of the day and night in a hotel environment, every manager on duty must have access to this information. If your social media firm or social media manager is not available for any reason, the designated MOD must be able to access your social media accounts, address the issues and handle the situation until someone becomes available. This is why a clear protocol needs to be developed and approved ahead of time.
Monitor and Listen. The most important skill that can be developed for social media crisis management is listening. Setting up your listening tools are your first and foremost step in finding and understanding where and what the crisis is about. The earlier you can find the root problem the quicker you’ll be able to stop the crisis from escalating. Even if you do not have a dedicated social media agency, social media manager or robust social media programme, make certain someone is regularly checking in, ‘listening’ and monitoring for any issues. This can also mean making sure you have a minimum presence established on appropriate social media channels. It is very difficult to respond to a situation if you are not actively listening, and your response will lack credibility if you don’t already have a professional, regularly-updated presence.
Be polite and respectful. Acknowledge the person on their original choice of communication, asking for a way to contact them offline to find out information. Taking the conversation offline as quickly as possible is key. Try and look at the “crisis” from the eyes of the person in distress.
Communication is key. Once you find out where the crisis has begun, you’ll now need to do a bit of investigation between departments and employees to see what the full story is. Admit your own wrongdoings quickly and honestly when apologies are due. The worst thing you could do here is ignore the problem or attempt to justify an action, it will only amplify the situation.
Try to turn a crisis into a positive with service recovery. Everyone likes free stuff. Everyone wants to be special. Offer what you can and understand where they are coming from and they’ll most likely turn out to be your biggest advocate out there. Remember that social media is a public conversation, and if you can recover the situation, it is likely your swift and gracious response will be broadcast as an example of what to do in a crisis. If the situation is handled negatively, it can spread rapidly and be hard to contain. The hotel industry can learn from some of the very difficult lessons some major airlines have experienced this past year and address issues swiftly, politely and with genuine care for the customer. It is very possible to turn a crisis into a positive or at least stop a bad situation before it escalates further.
Reflect and Advise. Once the crisis has been handled, go back to your teams at the hotel and provide feedback to the appropriate departments, never ignore the problem. Use the crisis as a way to strengthen operations, and use the lessons learned managing the crisis to improve the crisis communications plan for the next situation.
There is never a time when a crisis is welcome, but being prepared and having a team and plans in place can go a long way in managing a situation if it arises. With social media it is literally a matter of minutes before things can begin to escalate, so take the time now to prepare. It will be well worth the effort.
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