Would your business know what to do in a social media crisis?

| October 8, 2015

Recently, 60% of global companies admitted they didn’t actually harness social media in the event of an online crisis. Yet if every ‘global company’ is as honest as, say, Volkswagen, we might surmise the actual figure is a fair bit higher.

I estimate that around 75% of all modern Aussie companies don’t really know what to do when hit by social media attacks or online crises.

And I’ll challenge you further by insisting that “doing Facebook and Twitter” is woefully inept for effective for handling social media disasters. I’ll expand later…

You see, in all the excitement and rush towards online engagement, the risk and PR management side of the ‘social meeja’ business is less talked about. Certainly less than it needs to be. For brands, corporates and -– increasingly -– tough-to-love government agencies, social media is not a straight highway or an easy road.

We only have to look at cases such as the Nanna’s Berries Hep A scandal and the Woolworth’s ‘Lest We Forget’ online disasters to see how Aussie businesses can be easily outflanked by online outrage. If Woolies had run its Fresh In Our Memories past a PR expert – any PR expert – before they’d launched it, they would have advised on the PR perils.

The media motivation

While many experts define the tools of new media in terms of their functionality, my reputational interest makes me consider the psychological motivation – or basic end goal – driving why people are using social tools.

And as a career-long PR, I’m especially interested in how and why our most influential audiences – it’s still journalists for many businesses and brands – use the bad stuff they find from social.

When a journo gets hold of a social snafu, that’s when a squall or spat can become a PR tsunami; as soon as that journalist from ABC, Fairfax, or News Limited thinks that a small number of biased – maybe totally uninformed – opinions constitutes a story in its own right., then you have big repute problems.

When social becomes search

Read any news report and see it in the end paragraphs: “Meanwhile on social media people were saying/claiming/angry that/incensed by…da da da da da da…”

That’s when modern PR disasters start to stick – because when ‘big media’ or a high-traffic website publishes a social media critique, the search engines will find, index, store and republish that story – allowing many more people to read and redistribute it, and so completely and indelibly redefine your ‘online repute’ (reputation) with a modern PR disaster.

You learn by doing, not by reading

And updating your Facebook and Twitter channels only reaches a fraction of those who you most need to influence in a disaster event.

When I first thought about how to handle online crises and social media disasters, I drafted up a series of priceless tips to help my clients. But reading a crib sheet about tennis won’t help any of us defeat Novak or Andy, will it?

However, if I practise, and practise, and practise, I may have a sporting chance.

That’s why at Engage ORM we’ve developed and launched a new password-protected simulation platform called The Drill.

The Drill replicates trans-media crises, and allows brands, companies and government agencies to practice and learn how to cope with, and counter, social media crises in real-time. (There is a cost to use this service.)

Better than a crisis crib-sheet, you actually immerse yourself in a shipstorm (sic) simulation!

The worst day of your life

Built in Australia for brand managers, CEOs, entrepreneurs and PRs, our password-secured simulation classroom, realistically replicates all the main social channels alongside traditional media pressures. We proudly think it can offer you the worst day of your professional life.

So far, clients in agriculture, brands, education and government have used it to test and hone responses to all kinds of PR disasters; from customer service gripes, anti-corporate activism and natural disasters to brand tampering and even attacks from disgruntled, ex-staff members.

But back to a point I made earlier about “doing Facebook and Twitter”. These two channels don’t adequately reach your audiences in crises (Facebook posts only touch 12-33% of your Facebook network on average) and somewhere just over 20% of Twitter profiles are said to be active daily. I’m no mathematician, but I want better odds of message saturation in a disaster or emergency event.

Modern media and communications is increasingly going online. And what’s said online is mostly about search engine reputation. And that’s all about PR.

And because search engines archive, retrieve and regurgitate old and bad news – it’s imperative to know how to influence social channels in the short and long term, if you want to protect your reputation.

We encourage companies to test their skills by going through a crisis “Drill”; it’s sure to show up deficiencies and highlight ways you can future proof your business and your brands, against social media disasters.

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Gerry McCusker is the Founder and Principal of Engage Online Reputation Management, a Melbourne-based training and campaign consultancy specialising in online PR and social media communications. Gerry is an issues management specialist and the author of the ‘PR Disasters’ (Kogan Page, 2005) book and blog. He is also a sought-after presenter at conferences and events in Australia, Asia-Pacific and the USA.