Crisis Management In The Social Media Era
April 23rd, 2018 | By: Matthew I. Paletz, Esq.
Contrary to popular belief, a crisis is not when your NCAA bracket gets obliterated in the first weekend. Rather, the dictionary defines it as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger when a difficult decision must be made.” In property management, examples of this include infrastructure failures, fire damages, criminal incidents or pest infestations. “Crisis” generally has a connotation of chaos and lack of control. But if you’re prepared, it doesn’t have to be.
Traditional media is now fueled by social media and sensationalism is rampant. Landlords are attractive targets. Therefore, you should preemptively examine your social media reputation. If it is not complimentary to the character of your complex, then you’re already starting behind the eight-ball. On the other hand, having a positive social media presence in place can help to lessen a crisis, especially if it can be demonstrated that the issue was addressed promptly. Your social media reputation, combined with your relationship with residents, can play a big role in how a situation is perceived.
As with property management, successful crisis management starts with planning. A policy addressing how you will handle these types of events is vital and should:
- Outline steps that each level of your organization should take when something like this occurs, so everyone, from the corporate office to the property level, has guidance on what to do and who they should report to.
- Establish a clear chain of command as decisions need to be made quickly and too many decision-makers could cause delay.
- Ensure that you have trusted vendors lined up such as HVAC, roofers, property restorers and insurance providers.
- Allocate, if necessary and financially feasible, additional maintenance staff from other properties in your portfolio. This way when dealing with the larger-scale issues, the additional personnel can help with the normal day to day maintenance issues to safeguard against further tenant consternation.
If a crisis does occur and is getting negative media attention, there is a fine line between limiting engagement to prevent escalation versus losing total control of the narrative. In response to an inquiry, such as by a reporter, it is appropriate to start off with the position of “no comment at this time” especially if you don’t have all the facts. But it is important once you do have the facts to consider issuing a statement, as well as uploading it to your various social media sites.
As it relates to communicating with residents, make sure you have a strategy. Some of my clients choose to update residents while the crisis is ongoing and also use a hotline or dedicated email address. While others choose to stay silent and let their actions speak for themselves. Whatever you do, you need to make sure your on-site staff know since they are the ones who are on the frontline of communication.
If a resident raises a complaint about the property on social media, be responsive. If there is a financial component to the crisis, you may want to consider a proactive abatement of rent or another type of credit from the outset. These strategies allow you to get ahead of the situation as you’re being empathetic to residents and mitigating damages to the best extent possible. In doing so, make it clear that such allowances are not an admission of wrongdoing. As always, get your attorney involved early. Your landlord-tenant eviction counsel needs to be a trusted advisor, well-versed in risk management and media relations. If your attorney can’t handle this, you’re getting a limited rate of return. The world has changed.
Bottom Line: Having a plan in advance and communication with your team while the crisis is ongoing is very important. Have a clear chain of command to allow for decisiveness and have a social and conventional media strategy. When you have navigated past the crisis, it is always good to reassess your policies and personnel performance to determine if adjustments or additional training is needed. When in doubt, stay true to your company’s core values.