Social media- a crisis management tool?

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Thanks to Emily Corfield – PR student- Lincoln University, for this brilliant guest post on social media and crisis communications.

So you may be thinking “this is another one of those social media blogs” but in fact it isn’t. It is an insight into the world of social media and crisis communications.
In case you hadn’t heard, social media provides excellent communication opportunities and these can be exploited during crisis times. Three most popular platforms of social media will be discussed for the purposes of this blog.
Facebook is a popular social-networking site which allows the capability of feedback, comments and of course real-time status updates. Twitter has become a popular micro-blogging tool that allows real-time connectivity between “followers.” YouTube allows users to upload videos of anything they choose. Social networking sites have become one of the most popular searches on the web which suggests they are used by a hefty amount of people. So what does this mean for an organisation?
All platforms provide an opportunity to practice two-way symmetrical communication – providing truthful information to the user and listening and utilising feedback received. The advantages of this during crisis times are obvious.
It would be thoughtless to think that an organisation can begin to use social media at the same time a crisis has occurred, participation is required NOW. Since a crisis raises the need for urgency, the organisation should already have a social media strategy in place. They need to know where individuals are likely to complain, and subsequently those individuals need to know how to contact you. Thus, connectivity with individuals should be frequent to maintain an online presence and to monitor online conversations. Since the Internet has shifted the way in which we perceive audiences (from passive to active participants in a conversation) and the internet is a 24/7 global medium, conversations about your brand are imminent.
Participation on the internet brings obvious advantages to the organisation and we all now know why we should use it. But how should we use it? Social media has no defined global rule-book, so what are the most effective ways to use it during times of crisis?
You might not realise, but there are disadvantages to social media, “downsides” should we say, that are really useful to know about. The best advantage of social media might actually be its drawback. Increased communication on a global 24/7 medium can pose the question to the organisation of “when should we issue our response?”
Social media makes it possible to transmit messages to millions of users, but this doesn’t mean that they are able to transmit them all at the same time, as some audiences will not see them.
Paul Sutton suggests; “the best times to post new content on your Facebook wall are weekday mornings before noon (when 42% of people are most likely to login), weekday evenings after 6pm (one in three people login), and Saturday mornings before noon (34% of people login)”

Under the assumption that organisations cannot always issue that all important critical response at these times, Paul Sutton further suggests “The first thing to do is plug in to Hootsuite as it provides the ability to pre-program and schedule Facebook updates at the click of a mouse.”
What if however, the crisis is so large that the organisation becomes inundated with Facebook comments and Tweets that the critical response is lost within this sea of anger?
The key to this is constant monitoring and re-sending of the strategic message, either adding information as it arrives or simply sending the information available at that time, at least this way the organisation can be seen to be in control of the situation.
The organisation is responsible for replying to customer comments and feedback and these should be monitored at all times. Organisations should define those topics that are important to answer and these answers should always demonstrate excellent customer feedback, on a regular basis.

Recent crisis case studies should help to put this in perspective.

BP, on the face of it, does a good job at utilising various channels of social media. The one vital aspect they miss is how to utilise it properly. Comments on their Facebook page are barely visible and responses on their Twitter pages are hidden. Although we cannot rule out that BP is responding to individuals “behind the scenes” visible responses to angry consumer comments would empower the organisation and suggest to the public that they care about the situation. One explanation for this might be that BP didn’t utilise social media beforehand and thus refer to the old rule book of traditional media – frequently practicing one way communication that doesn’t fit in today’s digital age.

Toyota, on the other hand, seems to be getting it right. Comments are seen across all social outlets which they utilise and more importantly feedback is regularly given.  Toyota even established “Toyota conversations” which shows Toyota’s Twitter feed, tweeted news and even video about the Toyota recall which are shown on the brands corporate site. Toyota maintained their social media outlets before the crisis and knew how to use it effectively to get their messages across.

If you think you can escape social media, think again. If you think you should use social media but fail to appreciate how it works and appreciate its value, you’re wasting your time.

Social media can work brilliantly in a crisis to deliver valuable information on a real-time basis and to connect to individuals (which are key requirements of a crisis management plan) but time should be given to appreciate its true value. The public are talking about YOU, are YOU there for them?

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2 Responses to “Social media- a crisis management tool?”

  1. Lynda Nel says:

    Agree wholeheartedly! Have been following @brisbanecityqld Twitter Stream and Facebook page during the recent flooding (having family and friends living in the area), and they have done a wonderful job of keeping folk up to date with notes and details during the crisis.

  2. hotel social media…

    [...]Social media- a crisis management tool? | Online PR Company[...]…

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