[SMK] Social Media Knowledge


How to survive a social media crisis

There are three fundamental ideas that underlie every claim that social media is a valuable tool for crisis management. Loosely, these are:

1. Real-time monitoring. Because the internet is always turned on, it’s possible to create software that continually filters new content, and alerts a user to specific types of content. Given the number of ‘social’ internet users (as opposed to media companies or other ‘news’ sources), social media is where this real-time monitoring would add the greatest value as an early-warning system.

2. Instantaneous, direct-to-user communication. When talking about ‘crisis management’, many people intuitively mean disaster or emergency management. In this context, the ability to reach your audience directly and at scale is invaluable. Particularly if you consider the role social media can play in getting messages to people in the path natural disasters like a bushfire, for example.

3. Radical transparency. This is a corporate ideal that many communications professionals hold dear – knowing that letting people see behind the wall will often earn you more allies than enemies. Social media is a great way to facilitate a dialogue between an organisation and stakeholders, with minimal third-party filtering (such as we would otherwise see through news media). It also allows spectators to watch on if you’re so inclined.

On first glance, each of these ideas is valuable, solid and pretty common-sense. However, just like the invention of the power saw made a lot of sense, every powerful new tool presents its own unique operational challenges.

Sometimes, it may result in you losing a thumb. On social media, it may just cost you your job. Here are some key considerations for the above ideas.

Real-time monitoring

Let’s be clear: monitoring and listening are not passive activities. The best monitoring tools are all limited by the technical ability of their users to write a half-decent search string.

When Konica Minolta’s camera lens business was devastated by the 1995 Kobe earthquake, we weren’t as socially savvy. However, geographically isolated disasters can impact on supply chain…and straight away we’re outside the realm of day-to-day social media/community management.

Crisis management requires a whole-of-business view, and the ability to forecast outcomes across multiple horizons. From a passive monitoring perspective, this requires a human to firstly understand the functionality of the tool, and secondly, to understand the landscape upon which an issue or crisis may unfold. Real-time monitoring is only useful if the data collated by a tool is then received by someone who knows how to use it.

Instantaneous, direct-to-user communication 

This was kind of a huge deal when, in 2009 a number of the iconic Eurostar high-speed trains all managed to get stuck in underground tunnels. The key here is knowing whether or not it’ll actually work, or whether you’re simply playing to the crowd.

As we wrote in early 2010, the issue with the Eurostar example was that the social media explosion happened above ground – but the actual crisis was for the passengers stuck in the tunnels (under the sea in some instances). It’s only good if it works, and in this instance, the passengers couldn’t have got a tweet if they’d wanted to.

Radical transparency

As anyone who’s ever dealt with a crisis knows, sometimes the real problem is what happens when people outside the organisation get involved in something they don’t understand.

The ethical question for crisis managers is always a confronting one: do “the people” really have “a right to know”? In Australia, a company director has a legal responsibility to act in the best interests of the company.

Airing your dirty laundry proactively, with a resultant dive in share value, is obviously problematic. Yet engaging in a cover-up may be even more so.

Grant Smith is the General Manager of Edelman, Melbourne, and Issues and Crisis lead for Edelman Australia. He has more than 12 years experience providing corporate communications and issues management advice to clients across Australia, Asia Pacific and Europe.

Alex Lefley is a digital crisis specialist having worked on crises involving global and local brands since moving to Australia in 2011. He counts two Communique awards, a Sabre Award, and a Cannes Bronze PR Lion amongst his achievements. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexLefley

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