An organization’s reputation requires years to build; huge efforts to maintain and promote. But all of that may probably collapse at any moment and unfortunately this may happen in a free-fall fashion too. Here comes the role of crisis management to mitigate such a risk in a bid to put things in order. Part and parcel of crisis management is communication.
In this post, I will explain the importance of social media in the overall crisis management communication. Before then, I will first give a short preview of what is implied in crisis communication; second, I will discuss the use of social media, and finally I will present links to some brands succeeded in faring well in crisis.
Crisis communication: Definition
It is a public relations efforts within the organization in response to threats to its reputation. Threats can range from faulted products, fraud, lack of transparency, bad customer service, sexual harassment, labour tension to discrimination , to name but a few. Ignoring concerns/complaints of the public may only worsen the situation and spin it out. That’s why a core component of effective crisis communication drive is prompt response time and continuous handling of messages directed to general public and to main stakeholder. The aim is to contain the crisis as early as possible.
Olga, D. (2016). Crisis Communication [Web log post]. Retrieved August 14, 2018, from https://bit.ly/2B6z8dz
Conventional communication approach to manage a crisis would involve the five communication basics:
- Communicate with honesty, candour and openness, while acknowledging the risk
- Collaborate and coordinate with credible sources
- Meet the needs of media and remain accessible
- Communicate with compassion, concern and empathy
- Accept uncertainty and ambiguity
Dougherty, J. (2015, June 08). 6 Social Media “Musts” for Crisis Communication [Web log post]. Retrieved August 14, 2018, from https://cisn.co/2zwBrCa
To manage a crisis, a solid contingency plan is required with the goal of coordinating efforts horizontally and vertically inside the organization. An example of a contingency plan would require, but not limited to the following:
- Prepare contingency plan in advance and rehearse it
- Designate spokespersons
- Act promptly, because the media often build the information in the first hours
- Involve crisis management consultants and corporate image specialists
- Give accurate and correct information (trying to manipulate information will seriously backfire if it is discovered, even internally)
- Consider not only the short-term losses but focus also on the long-term effects
Contingency Planning [Web log review]. (2016, January 6). Retrieved August 14, 2018, from https://bit.ly/2nCNZCN
The following visual gives further insight into the contingency plan:
In terms of communication, it is important to consider the technological advancement and the many channels now are available to convey messages and engage the public. And probably among the best mediums to go for now are social platforms. Reasons are so obvious. For example, they are cheap, measurable and interactive. In term of access, most demographics can use them worldwide. Additionally, their intrinsic features can support hyperlinks, multimedia postings, among others.
Crisis communication: Role of social media
A crisis is time-sensitive and things can escalate quickly. Nowadays organizations are under increasing stress, as bad news are widely shared on social media and can go viral in a matter of minutes. Good news is that an organization can also turn social media into an opportunity to address the situation and open up to the public. So, in line with the communication basics and the contingency plan, social media should be used strategically. Some of the steps that can be taken may include:
Social media are reliable tools to disseminate timely information to audiences. Many people get their news from social media than conventional mass media. Therefore, social media are useful for sending messages directly to the public, explaining what happened and what kind of measures the organization is taking to address the problem.
Social media are flexible and can accommodate different messages around the same topic at once. An organization in crisis can draft messages tailored to the different groups of people affected by the crisis. As a case in point, Ronn Torossian gave the example of a McDonald’s worker who threatened and verbally attacked a customer and was filmed on camera. The company responded to the victim privately and apologized. It also assured the general public that they were aware of the issue and had terminated the employee’s contract.
Ronn Torossian mentioned that showing empathy humanises the company in the eyes of the public. This will help the company connect with its audience. In the social domain of the new media, it is really important to adopt a tone that friends the audiences. It is pointless, however, to defend the brand from customers, said Torossian, or try to prove the customer is wrong. Rather, the objective should be to engage the audiences into discussions, through which the organization can pitch the best way of how to respond. And, of course, this requires listening and listening!
Social media monitoring
Social media is not only a domain for pushing messages, it is also one for engaging main stakeholders and the public at large. Monitoring what is said about the organization across social media platforms would help in understanding the concerns of the public, the reasons for their opposing attitude and fury. This would offer an opportunity to mark a transition to participation through purposeful content that encourages engagement, which is a good start to respond to a crisis. Generating content by audience creates also a debate about the crisis. Thus, there will be many views: some will be opposing to the organization, some will be supporting the corrective measures by the organization and some may stay objective or neutral. I think this will alleviate tension and stress on the organization, while it continues to engage and resolve the cause of the issue.
In fact, tracking conversations about the organization is healthy. Moreover, it can be a pre-emptive measure in itself. As most crises are the result of events that brew slowly from past related events, social media can help track what is said about the organization over a stretched period of time. If there is a well-implemented content analysis and web-analytics in place, this will help draw the potential risk patterns, if any, and at ahead of time.
Crisis management committee or the head of the organization should take action promptly to address and prevent the crisis before it goes out of control. Because we are living in the digital age, an unhappy audience can easily turn to social media to garner more dissatisfied audience against an organization in crisis. That’s why it is crucial to resolve the cause of the problem quickly or at least be open and transparent to those concerned.
Torossian gave the example of how UPS customer service contained the anger of an unhappy customer before it turned into a larger scale crisis. The following video provides further information on how to manage crisis via social media:
That said, let’s now look at some cases of successful crisis management via social media.
Social media: crisis management success stories
Here is a collection of crisis management cases where social media are used:
To conclude, I am wondering if anyone of you is aware of the new Chipotle poisoning cases in the US this month. I tracked the company’s social media but I could not see a social media drive by the company to resolve the ongoing crisis. Why do you think Chipotle is not going digital to address the concern of the public, including via its website?
Social media has the potential to track and engage in real time, outperforming conventional media https://wp.me/p3QRy0-jJE
Many brands worldwide turn to social media for #crisismanagement https://wp.me/p3QRy0-jJE