Social Media at the Crossroads

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

Crisis communications expert Gerard Braud - Tweeting QuoteAs a conference speaker and presenter, my presentation for the International Association of Business Communicators has been one of the most difficult ever. Why? Because new crisis communication and social media case studies pop up daily. One of my slides says, “You can tweet your way into a crisis, but you can’t tweet your way out of a crisis.” Then like a gift from heaven, Roseanne Barr tweets an insensitive tweet, her television show gets canceled, and at the last minute, I’m having to add another case study of social media at the crossroads.

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Social media – it has all of the attributes and faults of a teenager. Like teenagers, social media can test our patience and resolve, as any parent of a teenager will attest.

We sit at the crossroads. Why?

Admit it. What you perceived as a shiny, new communications tool ten years ago, is now possibly the bane of your existence. As communication professionals and citizens of the world, most now have a love-hate relationship with social media.

Experts came from all around saying social media would allow you to engage your customers and employees. Stakeholders were asked to “join the conversation,” and “be heard.” Admit it. Now there are days when you wish you could hush the many voices on social media.

If your organization adopted social media only for sales and marketing, and not for strategic communications, you made a foolish mistake. Why? Well, when something goes wrong, consider where people go to complain. They complain on social media. If your social media channels are filled with marketing, then no one on the strategic communications side of the organization has a means to listen and engage.

Many global brands are starting to understand this. Frequently when I have a problem with an airline or hotel chain, I am able to resolve the issue with a tweet to the brand on Twitter. That usually leads to a useful direct message conversation and resolution of the problem. But the vast majority of organizations frequently use social media as a publicity channel.

You should question whether social media is now your primary “Un-selling” tool. When a customer has a complaint, they vent and rant on social media, where other customers get to see that complaint, and then share their own bad experiences. When a crisis happens, big or small, social media amplifies that crisis. Communicators must be prepared to rapidly respond to the crisis. Yet in responding to the crisis, you must use expert judgment to determine if responding on social media quells the crisis, or if it is more akin to pouring gasoline on the crisis.

At the social media crossroads, your crisis communications plan must anticipate how audiences will react to a social media post. Many in the field of professional communications believe that posting crisis details to social media and replying to each comment during the crisis is an act of being transparent. As a maverick, I would strongly disagree. Transparency can be achieved by way of a news conference and posting news releases to your corporate website. A link to video from the news conference can be posted on social media. A link to your website can be posted on social media. But a reply on social media to any comment, good or bad, can catapult your post and crisis to the top of everyone’s newsfeed, creating a vortex and volume of comments that should not be your highest priority during a crisis.

Furthermore, organizations must recognize that where once the news media was first on the scene reporting to the masses during a crisis, now it can be any human with a cellphone. By default, the person with the cellphone who is first to post images and video to social media during a crisis, becomes your default spokesperson, until you provide a better spokesperson with a better perspective and better images.

Can you produce a news release at the speed of Twitter?

Do you have a spokesperson who can make a statement at the speed of YouTube?

Social media is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. Organizations who saw it only as shiny and new, have been cut.

Would you agree that it is time to stop the bleeding?

To gain more insights on Social Media at the Crossroads, join Gerard Braud at the IABC conference in Montreal. His session on Social Media at the Crossroads takes place Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. in the reputation track.

About the author:

Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC, is a crisis communication expert. As a journalist, he spent 15 years reporting on crises. He has reported for CNN, NBC, CBS, The BBC and The Weather Channel. As a professional communicator, he has spent more 20 years helping leaders and organizations on five continents communicate more effectively in their most critical times. This veteran communicator blends the tried and true with emerging communication platforms to create a holistic approach to communication.

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