No Screaming Allowed: Social Media & A Crisis


Burn, baby, burn!

When a social media crisis strikes a company – it can feel like the sky just fell on your head.  And not a sunny, cloudless sky, but one of those overcast, gray skies that look as heavy as lead.

Suddenly, there’s an explosion of blog posts, comments, tweets, YouTube traffic, etc. and it’s all being shared and distributed.  Then there are the internal emails, phone calls and general panic happening inside the company.

The first thing you need to do?

Breathe.

It’s probably not as bad as it seems.  When you’re inside of a storm – it always appears larger.  In fact, most social media crises should rightly be called social media flare-ups.  They pop, burn, and then they usually fizzle.  But the key to getting a flare-up rather than a full-fledged crisis are the steps you take right out of the gate.

Companies have more control over social media crises than they realize.  If you act with with urgency – not panic – and a sense of alacrity, many crises can be prevented or at else transformed into less damaging flare-ups.

It also helps, of course, to have a corporate crisis plan already in place.  Weber Shandwick (the agency where I work) has a program called Digital Defense, which integrates social and digital media strategies and tactics into our world-class corporate crisis plans.  This is crucial as few crises these days don’t have an online component.

Here is some advice on dealing with social and digital media crises.

  • Have listening posts set-up. Social media moves fast.  You can’t react to a crisis unless you know it is happening.  Daily monitoring using social media monitoring tools is an important first step.  Not only will you be able to find crises and flare-ups as they occur, but monitoring also provide invaluable intelligence on what people are saying about your company, employees and products.
  • Be ready to fall on your sword. If your company or organization did something wrong – admit it and apologize.  Amazing things happen when a company admits to a mistake.  Suddenly the venom loses its sting.  I’ve seen many growing crises completely lose steam once a senior executive steps into the fray and calmly and pointedly admits fault, says sorry, and moves on.  What’s left for bloggers, tweeters, and commenters to snark about once that happens?  Not much.  There’s real power in participation – and even more power in de-fanging an enemy with a sincere apology.
  • Address the problem where is occurs and point people to the remedy. If you the crisis is a video on YouTube then address it on YouTube (via comments or through a video response).  If the problem is on Twitter then respond with a tweet – directly to the the person who made the initial tweet.  If a blogger writes a damning post then respond on his/her blog.  After a response is made or information provided – you can use other social media channels to point people to it.
  • Have social media assets already in play. It is much more difficult to handle a social media crisis when a company has no social media assets.  If there is no plan.  No social media channels.  No clue.  Then dealing with a crisis or a flare-up becomes tough.  Isn’t it time to get a social media plan in place?

What do you think?  Any advice or observations you’d like to share?

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One Response to “No Screaming Allowed: Social Media & A Crisis”

  1. Great advice, George. Can you give some examples of instances where companies have done it right, and others who have done it wrong?

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