Social Media: The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Crisis Communications

We’ve all seen “social media gone wrong” scenarios. Actually, we can’t really avoid them since they pop up on a daily basis. Just this past week we can watch the Viacom/DirecTV debacle play out on social networks and laugh at the staged Nokia After Party tweets from the ESPY’s.
On the flip side, communicating through social platforms can be an extremely efficient and effective means for updating the public in a crisis. During the fast-breaking nature of the recent Waldo Canyon Fire here in Colorado the hashtag “#WaldoCanyonFire” drew 119,000 tweets in just 15 days, reaching more than 54.4 million people.
The beauty of social media is a direct  reflection of the risk of social media – the conversation is open, potentially endless, and you can’t control the spread of information (or misinformation). But there are some fairly simple things you can do to effectively prepare for the good, and the bad, of social conversations:
     1)   Know where the relevant conversations are happening today, not just when a crisis breaks
It’s a good idea to monitor the Internet for your brand and product names, but don’t stop there. Set up Google Alerts, Twitter searches and the like for terms related to your industry and terms that might come up in a potential crisis (e.g., “Colorado fire,” “network scam,” and “@DeseanJackson10” to use examples from above). Broadening your monitoring will help you catch an issues management scenario quickly and interact with a broader community to build your social presence (see #3 below).
     2)   Be flexible with the purpose of your social platforms
If you’ve mainly used Facebook as a means to promote your products and services and Twitter as a customer service tool, what happens when the crisis situation plays out on Facebook instead of Twitter? You need to be ready to respond on the same platforms where the crisis is taking place.
     3)   Build your audience accordingly
There’s no such thing as a “dark” Twitter account. If you don’t have followers, no one will hear what you have to say. Build your presence today, use smart hashtags, and promote your social platforms as a way for your customers to get up-to-date information. The old PR adage still holds true – you can’t buy home insurance when your house is burning.
     4)   Be proactive AND reactive
Social media is a conversation, not a broadcast booth. Post AND respond. No one likes the person who talks about him/herself all of the time.
     5)    Build a social media response plan – today
Every business or organization has a handful of scenarios they’re worried about – customer complaints, product failures, situations that put large groups of people at risk. Whatever those situations are, plan for them. Put a social media response plan in place that prioritizes various conversations, and includes an action and approval process for addressing each priority level.
Jim Licko is a Director of Social Media and Digital Strategy at GroundFloor Media. He helped develop GFM’s Onine War Room™, and frequently uses it to help his clients practice difficult social conversations and develop social media response plans.

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