There was a time when protecting the reputation of a company, brand or organization was easier. Things such as inappropriate conduct of an employee were able to stay private in line with the old saying “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas”. Today as the media has been transformed from mass media to masses of media, as billions of people in the world own smart phones with camera, video, and audio enabled devices connected to thousands of social networks and millions of blogs, “What Happens in Vegas Goes on YouTube”.
The crisis communications protocols of today are designed to protect a company or organization usually from a reactive response; facing a swelling public challenge to its reputation, brand and community in the traditional media paradigm. However, in today’s new media environment, conversations about organizations or companies take place each and every day, often without our knowledge and participation until a groundswell of public discontent can be reached very quickly. In order to better protect the reputation of your organization, new crisis communications protocols that integrate social media strategies must be put in place to meet today’s new challenges.
As traditional media downsizes; blogs and social networking sites are growing and reaching more people than ever before. New voices are gaining influence through the 156 million blogs; 2,900 social networks; 800 million active Facebook members; and 250 million daily tweets that make up the new media space. Anyone can create content and distribute it freely, and this has made it increasing difficult for companies and organizations to control the messaging that protects their reputation. Whether it is video sharing, photo sharing, blog comments or tweets, the sum of all media channels equates to a powerful archetype for exposing and diffusing public opinion. Social media is pervasive and transforming how we communicate and share information. The filtering and aggregation qualities of social media enable news to travel at astonishing speeds and have magnified the urgency of crisis communications. Below are some key strategies that are an important part of an updated crisis communications plan that incorporates social media.
- Identify your crisis team: Pull together a select and comprehensive team of experts from crisis communications, government relations, general counsel, digital communications, human resources, and executive leadership. Your crisis team should have a plan of what needs to be done and who should do it. Work with your team on imagining your nightmare scenarios and prepare for them. Having digital communications experts on your team is a must.
- Monitoring 24/7 is important.The news cycle has changed. Every minute and hour of every day is a potential crisis in the social media age. The old concept of “take out the trash Friday” is becoming a thing of the past. For public relations departments, Friday’s were the best time to disseminate negative information that needed to get out, because even if it was covered, no one actually saw it.This age old protocol has changed. In fact, many bloggers stir up publicity over the weekends, when public relations staff are taking time off and do not respond as quickly to issues. This should be a concern to every crisis response team, as information travels quickly and intensely in micro blog communities such as Twitter.It is important that your organization is proactive, and setting up digital listening posts is essential. The setting up of Google alerts and Twilerts for key words related to your business or organization such as company name and names of top executives is vital to digital media monitoring. Monitoring you organizations’ presence online 24/7 can help you develop an appropriate response and at what level.
- Review context: Do not jump the gun and respond to what might appear to be a crisis. Dig a little deeper into what is being said and why. Don’t enter into a conversation until you have a firm analysis of the situation. It is important to know exactly who is doing the talking. A micro blogger who is tweeting to 1.1 million followers is a problem, while one who is tweeting to 17 followers is not. You need to find out who’s angry and identify if the uproar is isolated or widespread. Social media is great in measuring conversations and emotions, but it also has powerful analytical tools, that allow you to measure and quantify instantaneously how many people are posting comments to a blog, tweeting, or viewing a You Tube video. The social media is a constant auction of ideas that measures public opinion in real time. As you develop a plan of worst case scenarios, set quantifiable benchmarks that are triggers for evaluation of strategies and next steps. In order to be able to examine the context of an issue, you must be willing to listen to the conversation. Learning the language and culture of the blogosphere will help you find out what is being said, place it in the proper context and decide how to respond.
- Don’t Wait, Respond: When there is a crisis situation, you must respond quickly and in a timely manner. The social media crisis literature is chalk full of case studies of corporations and organizations who waited and put their heads in the sand in the midst of a crisis online. Micro bloggers do not follow traditional media deadlines, and often choose to start a firestorm on the weekends when an organization’s communications staff is taking time off. In the new media age, you can’t wait to respond. Small incidents can quickly spread into bigger PR problems via the web. By remaining silent you tacitly confirm attacks against you by not responding.
- Watch tone:Once you do issue a response, it is important that you show that you care – even when you do not know. You are concerned. Humbleness and transparency go a long way.In developing a response, acknowledge the emotions of the party’s feelings and perceptions and actions on the web. They may not be correct, but must be acknowledged and then clarifying can begin.For example, “We’re aware there’s an issue; we’re not ignoring it, and we’re working hard to get to the bottom of it,” is an appropriate initial response. In the transparency of the new media age, you must speak to people as people.
- Tell the truth about the situation. Even more so in the new media age, you must take ownership of the problem as much as possible without jeopardizing your organization legally or doing further damage. This may involve bringing out points that are being ignored or underreported. But you should be distinct, brief, and as open as possible. In the new media age, everyone lives in a small town, and you must be open and comfortable in communicating you point effectively.
- Show that you are looking to future and taking action to make things right. If a crisis brings a problem to your attention, admit it, address it, and fix it. If something is wrong and you can make it right, do it.
- Consistent response and comments: incongruity will damage you. In utilizing micro blogs such as Twitter, be simple and selective, don’t over complicate and congest Twitter’s airwaves with excessive banter. By sharing only the most essential content, your audience will know that the information you share is important when it arrives, and is timely and actionable. To be a trustworthy and reliable source of information, you must have a consistent message.
- Engage Your Audience Where They Live:In the new media age, it is about actively addressing issues to minimize unforeseen eruptions from those yet to rally others against you. You must address the crowd where it is gathered. Understandably companies don’t necessarily want to call attention to a crisis by making a big flashy statement, but it is important to engage with people to address grievances. One of the best ways to do that is to embrace the power of the micro blog community. It is important that your information is capable of being shared and linked to. Sharing and linking are essential new media realities. We must not think of things in terms of first tier impressions or views, but also in terms of the exponential tiers of how many times an article is shared by others.In order to reach your audience and have them share your information it also important that you chose the appropriate social media tool to reach them whether it is a blog, podcast, YouTube video, social network, or recommendation engine. Knowing the social media channel most appropriate to you audience shows that you have listened and learned from them, and they will be more apt to have you lead and persuade them through engagement.
Social media channels are growing exponentially and incorporating new audiences. The fact is you need to be prepared. Willful ignorance of the social media is the intentional obsolescence of your organization and its response to a potential crisis.
You should be prepared for the worst of what may happen in the social media to your company. What you do in the first hours and days will affect your reputation and your company or organization’s future.
Give us a call and let’s start updating your crisis communications response plan to incorporate social media strategies. A social media diagnostic of where you are in the social media space is also an important first step. You may learn something about your company’s reputation that you did not know.