When it comes to corporate crises, social media is most often perceived as a culprit. Communications traditionalists, used to creating and managing messages, see the current environment as a polluted one in which a single blog post, tweet or update from a nobody can snowball into a full-blown catastrophe. They point to Domino’s and Motrin, as well as to Nestle and most recently, Gap to demonstrate how things have changed for the worse.
There’s no doubt things have changed — and we can argue until we’re blue in the face over whether what we’re seeing is better or worse. But what’s not open to discussion is that this new reality requires new tactics. And while social media has become the weapon of choice for angry masses to fuel the fire of negativity, it is also the very best asset for crisis management.
In a session titled “Digital Crisis Communications” at this year’s Blogworld Expo, panelists Scott Monty of Ford, Shel Holtz of Holtz Communication + Technology, Dallas Lawrence of Burson-Marsteller’s Proof Integrated Communications and moderator Valeria Maltoni shed light on what today’s corporations can do to monitor, confront and manage crises in social spaces. Here are a few choice takeaways from the panelists to help you navigate and avoid crises in a 2.0 world.
The principles remain the same. Handle issues quickly, accurately, professionally and with care—or pay the consequences. Holtz and the panel were quick to point out that the principles of crisis communications have not changed in today’s Web 2.0 world, but the conditions have. Companies should leverage all the tools they can access to monitor all relevant consumer generated media, not just traditional media, as any voice can trigger or sway public opinion.
Return on Investment? How about Return on Avoiding Pain? While many companies are looking to measure return on investment by looking at improved sales, greater operational efficiencies, etc., we often ignore social media’s crisis management benefits until it’s too late. Dallas Lawrence reminded attendees to invest in social media for what he calls a “return on avoiding pain.” To stop a crisis in its tracks, you have to have a presence and an ear to the ground. Lawrence cited United Airlines as an example. In 2008, when an archived story announcing the airline was filing for bankruptcy got picked up by Bloomberg – the story took off, made its way around the blogosphere and sent the stock tumbling. In the traditional sense, United did nothing wrong. But if they were appropriately monitoring — and consequently addressing the misinformation, the airline could have averted what turned out to be a true disaster.
Use Twitter as an ally. Lawrence referred to Twitter as “the single best crisis warning system ever developed.” Are you thinking about it in this light? Utilize Twitter to track discussions and use it to engage customers by answering questions honestly, addressing rumors and correcting misinformation. Thwarting crises is far easier when they are in their nascent stage.
Be ready on all fronts. Where are the groups that are looking to take your company down? Are you equipped to fight them on multiple fronts? Lawrence — after discussing the coordinated attacks from Greenpeace on Nestle — pointed to a study showing that 33 out of 34 political advocacy groups use at least one social media platform to engage their stakeholders. What’s more impressive, is 32 of those 33 are on every major platform. Are you ready to compete across the wide spectrum of social media? Monty suggested that any outcry from one group is best addressed on the same platform on which the complaint was made. For example, the Domino’s fiasco that originated on YouTube was addressed with a video from the CEO just two days later.
How are you using social media to respond to public relations issues? What tactics and tools have helped your company stay one step ahead?
Image credit: Hiob, iStock Photo