I had a great honor to speak at the Social Media Plus conference on a topic I’m passionate about: crisis communications.

Crisis Communications in the Realtime World

View more presentations from Ann Marie van den Hurk. This presentation was originally viewed on November 16, 2011 at the Social Media Plus conference.

Some highlights from the actual presentation:
A good percentage (46%) of businesses do not have crisis management plans and many think they will rarely need one. Yet, 79% say they are only 12 months from a potential disaster. And only a third have digital plans in place.
Bad things happen to people and organizations, but how you respond during a crisis can enhance your reputation and often save your organization. Some quick examples of social media crisis: Southwest and filmmaker Kevin Smith regarding his girth, National Restaurant Association fans response to the Herman Cain situation, and Klout changing their algorithm. In social media everyone has a voice. It is no longer push out and down, but a two-way street between the organization and public.
Which one of these have you heard of?
How you react is how you will be remembered. Let’s be upfront, the best defense is a good offense. You need to be in the game by having an established presence on the social webs. Not a smart idea to start on social media while in the crisis. An example would be the Twitter account of @bpglobalpr. Looked legit, right? Turns out it was a parody account spoofing BP after the Gulf of Mexico spill in April 2010. In the beginning it confused by many as the voice of BP. It has and continues to have more followers on Twitter than the official BP account. This is where having an engaging presence, as a brand is important. Social media is social. All about connecting and conversation. Smart to have monitoring services set-up before a crisis happens and you should be listening.
We are living a 24/7 media cycle and widespread social media use. The use of social media is staggering: 152 million blogs, 2 billion videos watched every day on YouTube, 190 million tweets are sent daily, and if Facebook was a country it would be the third most populous country.  That’s a lot of connecting and sharing. And people are talking about you.
In this real time world, the response time has been cut from two hours to twenty minutes during a crisis situation. And that’s if you are lucky.
Preparation is key to ensuring the way you react and handle a crisis leads to a positive outcome. It is very important to have a written plan in place and staff trained before a crisis ever happens, because you’ll lack the time to do so once one happens. And in this age of social media, having a plan is essential.
Don’t forget to include staff in the crisis planning process. Particularly the social media savvy staff member who may have a wider audience and a more influential status.  One example would be Jim Long or @newmediajim. He’s been involved in social media especially Twitter from the beginning. He has 44,000 plus followers on Twitter, 3,000 plus friends on Facebook, and a 1000 or so folks have circled him in Google+. Jim is a NBC Cameraman not an on-air talent, but he has a loyal and highly engaged social media following. People listen to him and trust him. This is invaluable to an organization. In addition, it is very important to have social media guidelines in place. Just don’t dictate… work with the social media savvy staff.
Basic crisis communications still applies when dealing with a social media crisis. Social media forces organizations to be quick. It isn’t traditional media driven, but community driven.
There are a handful of crisis we can talk about in social media:

  • – Individual-created – an employee does something unflattering and reflects upon the company.
  • – Customer Service #Fail – a company is not fulfilling their brand promises.
  • – Campaign – an organized effort against a company by activist groups.
  • – Organization “Brainfart” – it is when a company does something “dumb” and the social web calls the company out on it.
  • – Blackhole – when all heck breaks loose such as a major business crisis.

Let’s talk some examples. We’ll start with a positive outcome. The #seriouslymcdonald’s hashtag was tied to the racially charged Twitter photo hoax. The McDonald’s social media team lead by Rick Wion responded to the situation quickly releasing only the facts that it was a hoax. They then transitioned into defusing negatives by reconfirming their commitment to diversity on both sides of the counter and keeping their cool in a highly charged environment. This happened over a weekend and the story was dead by midweek.
I had a chance to talk to Rick about this. McDonald’s has digital fully integrated into their crisis communications plan. And there aren’t any silos there allowing them to react quickly and smartly. Rick and his team were monitoring this situation for about a year before, it got traction on Twitter. The photo is pretty outrageous and totally not believable. They didn’t feel it warranted any action. When some influencers on Twitter got a hold of it, thought it amusing, and started tweeting out. It snowballed. It only took a couple of hours. Folks weren’t thinking it was a joke, but actually serious. So folks still be believe everything they read on the Internet. That’s when Rick started communicating via their social media channels and reaching out to original influencers sharing the facts. What I appreciate here is how no corporate speak was used in the responses. I’ll keep saying this, but social media is social and it is important to address your audience in appropriate language.
Now let’s move to how not to handle a social media crisis, #weinergate. The Weinergate sexting scandal offered evidence of more than one don’t. His first response was to place the blame elsewhere, and then he followed up with stalling tactics and speculation and overstatement of the facts in the case.
Social media is two-way conversation. People now expect to be heard and get a response from you. It is no longer a relationship between you and traditional media when dealing with a crisis… it is now a relationship between you and followers on Twitter… you and Facebook fans… you and subscribers to your blog.
An example of the time-way street is Chapstick. A photo in one of their print ads got them in a heap of trouble in some blogger circles. But how they responded on their Facebook page got them into more trouble. Instead of right out addressing folks concerns, they deleted comments which causing more comments and anger. Chapstick finally started addressing the situation, but it took them a while.
The National Restaurant Association is currently in crisis mode. The NRA is very active on social media. Recently their Facebook page was alight with concerns and criticism of their handling the sexual harassment settlements. While they didn’t delete the comments, they address them either. For a week folks were posting aggressively about this and it wasn’t addressed. What NRA posted during that time had nothing to do with the situation and frankly was “fluff” posts. Once they did address the situation, the negative posting went down and they even got some supportive comments.
Take-a-way? You need to be prepared to handle a social media crisis before it happen.

breach crisis communications

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