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Why Churches Need a Social Media Crisis Communication Plan

A defamatory comment on your Facebook page. An inappropriate post accidentally published by an administrator.

When you take part in the world of social media, the potential for these types of problems exists. However, these risks do not necessarily mean you should disengage from social media because it can be an extremely effective way to promote events, disseminate information, and build rapport.

Instead, spend time building a social media crisis communication plan.

Who and how to respond

If someone were to post a derogatory comment on your Facebook page, for example, there are many ways you could respond.

You might delete it, request that the person contact you offline, send the individual a private message over email, or make a public reply. Each of these strategies has its own pros and cons.

What’s important is that your institution has a protocol in place that outlines how to handle the situation.

  1. Who will respond? Know who is responsible for responding to the incident, in effect a spokesperson for your church or diocese. That person might be a pastor, a communications manager, an administrator or a volunteer.
  2. Who needs to know about the situation? Depending on the seriousness of the issue, the audience could change.
  3. What tool should you use to communicate? Even though a communication crisis may have started online, it doesn’t have to remain online. That could mean, for example, that you request an in-person meeting with the individual who posted the comment.

Privacy policies

Define your media code of conduct on your website, including disclaimers and privacy policies. Make others aware of what is and isn’t private and you’ll run into fewer issues. For example, a church’s privacy policy might say that pictures of church members won’t appear online without their permission unless they’re posted on a private, password-protected page.

Social media manager

Select a social media manager. That person could be responsible not just for updating social media sites, but for acting as a monitor of the sites, in case a breach or crisis should occur.

Communicating with minors over social media

Think of communicating with children over social media in the same way you would communicate with them in person. You wouldn’t have a one-on-one communication in person, and it should be no different with social media. The communication adults have with children should always be transparent.

If a minor initiates a private message, many people are unsure of what to do. Have a protocol in place if, for example, a young church member were to email a youth director or a pastor to ask a question. Make sure parents know about the protocol. Tell them: If we hear from your child, here is what will happen.

Some advocate “cc”-ing another clergy member or administrator on email replies to children; others suggest that you can reply, but let the parents or guardians know you’ve gotten a question from their child and responded to it (without revealing the content).

The benefits of electronic communication and social media generally outweigh the risks, especially if a church has policies in place in case something happens.

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