"Companies should really look at Dunkin' Donuts and how they handled it," said Olds. "They've done two, no, three great things here. First, they're truly doing something to help with the $100,000 donation. Second, they have shown their community of customers that they care about the market they serve and they're a positive member of that community. They've also given their employees something to be proud of, which is hard to measure on the bottom line, but which pays dividends."
To be able to handle a crisis well in the public eye takes work and sit-down planning. Companies that have a social media presence need to have a social media crisis management plan.
"You need to think about internal communications and external communications," said Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner Inc. "Companies need to respond in real time. Companies also have to be careful to not say something that will inflame the situation or propagate false information."
For a crisis management plan, companies should consider these questions:
- Who will decide what to tweet or post? Is this a PR manager's job or the CEO's?
- When is it appropriate to comment? Should you tweet your support or wait till the crisis is over, social channels have quieted down and all the information is in?
- " If you're going to drop a link in your post or tweet, make sure it's to something helpful, as Southwest Airlines did with the link to flight rebooking information.
- If you have automated tweets set up to come out during a crisis, cancel them.
- If your company generally sends out a few tweets or posts a day, consider staying mostly silent, other than sending a message or two of support.
- Don't stray from what your company is about. If your company sells widgets, don't get into a political debate about gun rights or immigration.
- Decide how big a crisis or event needs to be before you put a crisis plan into action.
- Be genuine. If it is something that you truly feel, even if it's sharing feelings of sadness, that's OK.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.