How to Set Up a Social Media War Room

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The intersection between traditional public relations and social media marketing has overlapped to the point that it’s conceivable the two disciplines will look very different in the next decade. 

For public relations professionals, in particular, this shift presents exciting possibilities to broaden the ways we do business. Beyond “likes” and short-term engagement, there is an opportunity to think strategically about how digital media can bolster existing efforts.

Crisis communications has emerged as one area where social media is invaluable, because social media provides businesses with a direct connection to their customers. 

While traditional crisis communications plans are still needed, social media is a necessary component. Moreover, now that audiences and customers have a direct link to brands, customer service has also taken on a larger role.

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Whereas traditional crisis communications focused on relaying messages through print and broadcast media, social media has flipped the scenario and empowered the customer. As Jay Baer puts it in his book, Hug Your Haters, “Social media has turned customer service into a spectator sport.”

Welcome to the War Room

I recently attended a presentation on crisis communications and social media war rooms given by Ann Marie Taepke, Director of Digital Media at Walk West, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Taepke is an expert in livestream broadcasting, having developed award-winning social media and digital campaigns for brands such as Jeep and Fox Home Entertainment.

While crisis communications plans are still needed, social media is a necessary component. 

Taepke discussed the many ways that social media directly impacts a brand’s reputation, as well as their bottom line. “Ninety-two percent of customers will call you out on poor customer service, and almost 50 percent of those will do it on social media,” she says. One way to include social media in crisis planning is to factor in a social media war room.

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Determine Your Objectives 

Social media war rooms provide a way to monitor conversations about your business and interact with audiences online.

While war rooms are a familiar tool for communications professionals, particularly in the public policy sector, social media war rooms differ in significant ways. Social media war rooms are used for:

  • Real-time conversation
  • Established social media “brand voice”
  • Crises and major events

The term “war room” is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to social media. Social media war rooms are useful during a crisis, but they can also be used in conjunction with Twitter parties, product launches, or to help engage with audiences around major happenings such as sporting events or an election.

Assemble Your Team

Once the goals and objectives for the war room have been decided, Taepke recommends assembling a team with very specific roles.

  • Ringleader: Supervises the operation and keeps team members motivated (and hopefully brings food!).
  • Community Manager: This is the only person tweeting, posting, or snapping, so ideally they should already write social media content for the client or project.
  • Filterer/Listener: Monitors the social media conversation and filters items of importance for the Community Manager.
  • Content Creator: The person in this role has to create a great deal of content quickly, so the job is best suited to a graphic designer or copywriter.
  • Analytics Specialist: It’s great to include someone with these capabilities, because they can pull stats for you in real time throughout the event.
  • Client: The idea of this may make people uncomfortable, but having the client in the room can be a huge help to the team, as it eliminates the need to make late-night phone calls for approval.

According to Taepke, you should not be discouraged if you’re a small operation that doesn’t have all the capabilities listed. “You can run a successful social media war room with three people: the community manager, filterer/listener and content creator,” she adds.

Because a war room operation can stretch on for hours, consider training multiple people in each role so no one gets burned out. One place to start is with existing customer service personnel, since they should require a small amount of additional training to participate.

Arrange Technical Support

A good software program or application will help the team stay organized. Since Twitter is typically the platform used to talk in real time, Tweetdeck is one option.

Tweetdeck is Twitter’s free application to send, receive, and manage multiple Twitter accounts at once. It allows you to set up customizable columns where you can search by timeline, trends, hashtags, or even individual users. 

Take a Trial Run

Practice will help the war room team get prepared before a crisis occurs. Taepke recommends timed practice drills offline to help the team get comfortable with the war room process. That way, they’ll be able to hit the ground running whenever the next big opportunity presents itself.

Holly Bodner is a public relations professional in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

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