Rethink Social Media Crisis Communications

By Gerard Braud

Do you follow the herd or do you set your own course?

The “herd” mentality of social media is finally changing.

  • Which herd were you originally in?
  • Which herd are you in now?
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In public relations and marketing, the headline could have read, “Gerard Braud Is the Social Media Lone Wolf.

It started in 2008 with a conference presentation called, “Social Media When ‘It’ Hits the Fan.

Facebook had opened to the public in 2006 and the herd didn’t want to hear about the negative side of social media. Booking agents and meeting planners would ask me to speak about how to use social media as a wonderful marketing tool. Being the lone wolf, I’d explain how social media would lead to an online crisis and that no expert worth his salt should talk about social media marketing without combining it with a crisis communications element.

I turned down a lot of paid speaking engagements because the herd only wanted to hear about the pretty online world where customers would beat a path to your door on Facebook. Being the maverick, I saw the potential for those same customers to become an angry mob at your door, using social media as their virtual torches and pitchforks.

Today, demand for knowledge about social media and crisis communications as a combined topic is going through the roof. “Social Media When ‘It’ Hits the Fan” is the most requested topic I’m asked to speak about at conferences and conventions.

Here are some takeaways you should consider if your employer uses social media:

1. Replying to a negative online post might make things worse. Conventional wisdom says to show your concern for a customer by posting a reply. But taking a negative discussion offline is a better option. A direct message that is less public can be more personal. A public online reply on Facebook raises the negative comment to the top of everyone’s newsfeed. This opens the door for more negative comments from those with a similar negative point of view who missed the original post.

2. Tried and true still beats shiny and new. In other words, a tried and true crisis communications plan and response strategy is still needed. It should define all of your audiences and the best communication strategies for reaching your audiences. A social media crisis will likely still require you to talk with the media, communicate to your employees, and to publish a news release statement on your corporate website. A Tweet might get you into a crisis, but it takes more than 140 characters to message your way out of a crisis.

3. Establish a clear social media policy for your employees. Have each employee sign the agreement and place it in their personnel file. Be ready to enforce it. Some of the policies I write for clients prohibit employees from listing their place of employment on their personal social media profiles. You’d be surprised to learn all of things I can’t share with you because of the confidentiality agreements that I’ve signed. But, an ounce of prevention on social media is more than a pound of cure.

The herd is giving you permission to acknowledge that what was once the shiny and new world of social media is now tarnished. If you are not prepared, it will also tarnish the reputation of your company.

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