Speed Kills

Tips for managing crisis in the era of social media


driving great brands

white paper

You and social media: are you ready when crisis strikes?
In the emerging era of Web 3.0 communication, when crisis strikes an organization the speed at which it can damage or kill a hard-earned brand reputation is dizzying.
But an organization under siege can minimize or kill a threat in its tracks with the same lightning speed – if they’re ready for it. The power of people using social media networks and acting as citizen journalists rests in their ability to spread news and opinions in mere seconds. For an unsuspecting organization not ready to respond at a moment’s notice, it means they can be enjoying uneventful success one minute and fighting for their life the next. Often, in the center of the storm and leading the response is an organization’s PR team – identifying the source and scope of the problem, mobilizing key internal decision-makers, developing a rapid response strategy, executing tactical recovery efforts, and analyzing the results. There’s no time to waste – everything happens in real time. It’s not an easy place to be, and there’s little room for error. When disaster strikes, top insiders – from the CSuite to PR, Marketing, subject matter experts, Government and Investor Relations, and HR – have to mobilize fast and respond in lock-step. Messages have to be clear and consistent to douse the flames of crisis, and restore customer confidence and an organization’s most precious asset – its brand reputation.

Be prepared – crisis can start anywhere, anytime
Crisis can begin from the least expected place. It might be a customer unhappy with a product or service, a disgruntled or bored employee, a competitor angling to get an edge or, a government department dealing with a public health threat. It could start with a YouTube video posted one afternoon, and within hours it becomes the subject of thousands of blog entries and tweets. When your customers or stakeholders are talking to each other about you, it can mean serious trouble unless you take control quickly. We’ve all seen examples of brand reputations under attack – in PR circles they’re legendary. True or false, your customers, employees, stakeholders and competitors have many forums to share and spread their opinions – real or otherwise – about your product or service. Whether you get a heads-up on a looming crisis or it takes you by surprise, you have to be focused on what matters most. And what matters most is reaching the people who are important to you on the channels where they get their information – as soon as is humanly possible. That’s the first rule in crisis response, right after getting the facts about the issue.

Tips for managing crisis in the era of social media


But that’s still only half the equation. The real edge is being ready for it in the first place. Forward-thinking organizations include social media channels in their media monitoring and usually get some warning that trouble might be brewing, although surprises can’t ever be ruled out. Think it’s impossible to have your ear to the ground in social media settings? It’s not. Some simple up-front investments in planning can save your skin. In your organization, you already plan for other crises – this should be one of them. This white paper provides two examples of how social media channels have been used in crisis settings. In one case, the organization was ready. In the other, it wasn’t. In both, intelligent thinking ensured the best results for their stakeholders.

Be prepared for crisis: five tips to know
Do you know what to do if crisis strikes? Make a plan and rehearse it. Make sure it includes the following:

1 2 3 4 5

A crisis team. Key members from your organization should understand and use social media – communicating with their communities of interest. They need to be ready to come together as a team when trouble is brewing. This is not a job just for PR. Clear messaging. Agree with your team to keep messages simple, clear and straightforward. Build messages in advance that communicate your commitment to customers, employees and stakeholders. A strong human network. When crisis strikes, keep your ear to the ground by talking to customers, stakeholders, media, and other audiences you can trust.

Crisis information tools. Build a crisis web site to replace your existing site, or a section to add to your current site. Practice uploading it.

Bench strength. Managing a crisis on social media channels means having the horsepower to engage. Are your organization’s servers robust enough to manage a surge in traffic?

Tips for managing crisis in the era of social media


Anatomy of a crisis
The H1N1 flu virus is the first global flu pandemic to unfold in the Web 3.0 era. Since April when the crisis began, public health agencies around the world, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), have been briefing print, TV and radio reporters regularly about the progress of the outbreak. Traditionally, mass media has been the best way to reach large populations. But in today’s fractured communication universe, traditional channels are the last place whole segments of society in the U.S. would turn to for information about infection prevention, public health decisions on who should line up first for the vaccine, and guidance on everything from using mass transportation to whether or not to keep children home from school. Web 2.0 and 3.0 applications are increasingly enabling people to find reliable information not through the filters of mass media, but directly from the source – in this case the CDC. Or, they may rely on their network of friends or trusted subject matter experts – via Facebook, blogs, Twitter and other social media channels. The CDC is fully aware of how and where people gather and consume information. Its social media group has been at the forefront of social networking for more than four years, working with program and communication groups within the organization to reach communities with information ranging from disease prevention to natural disasters – from diabetes care to hurricane evacuations, and from food recalls to influenza prevention. When the H1N1 crisis hit, the CDC was not caught like the proverbial deer in the headlights. The social media group simply mobilized to reach and grow its already substantial social network-based followers. “At CDC we try to provide credible, accurate health information when, where and how users want it,” explains Ann Aiken, Health Communications, Centers for Disease Control/National Center for Health Marketing/Division of eHealth Marketing. “In terms of the 2009 H1N1 response, we quickly developed a social media strategy as part of a coordinated communications plan to send out timely messages that foster engagement, encourage participation and further open government goals and public engagement activities.” That strategy included – and continues to include – a list of channels and tactics designed to reach people who either use social media as their primary source of information, or those with no or limited access to traditional mass media channels.

Why should you care?
Managing crisis isn’t what it used to be. Newspaper and TV headlines still count, but the greatest potential for threat to your brand reputation may come from social media. Web 3.0 makes connections and conversations happen much faster. Search engines are able to assemble information that’s quantifiably more sophisticated and intelligent, making it easier to find and share intelligent information. The good news is Web 3.0 will let you monitor conversations about your brand reputation much more strategically and respond to crisis more effectively and productively. That’s why you should care.

Tips for managing crisis in the era of social media


CDC’s tactics include: » A Twitter profile designed first for Hurricane Ike that was repurposed for the H1N1 outbreak. Before H1N1 it had about 2,500 followers. It has ballooned to a following of more than 1.2 million. » The development of ten widgets for people to share with others and place on their social media site and other web sites. » Creating online videos on both CDC.gov and social media sites, like YouTube. One video has over 2 million views on YouTube alone. » eCards encouraging people to get the flu vaccines, wash hands, breastfeed safely, and maintain health while traveling. » Launch of an official CDC Facebook page. It currently has more than 50,000 fans. » A MySpace page and presence on Daily Strength, a social networking site for people needing support. » Podcasts for people to listen to or download information. » RSS feeds that have had 43 million views. » A blog partnership between CDC and WebMD to deliver trusted information. It is WebMD’s second most popular blog. » Webinars for bloggers in the business community, pregnant women and children. » A text messaging pilot program for use in emergencies. In the H1N1 crisis, it is being used to inform people about the progress of the disease – where to get vaccinated, etc. Up to 3 messages or more per week can be delivered depending on the nature of the crisis. Also, messages can be targeted to reach people by age group, gender, zip code and more. » A mobile web site for people to view H1N1 related material on their cell phone. Ann Aikin explains the CDC’s work on H1N1 complements other traditional programs designed to reach vulnerable and at-risk groups – low income individuals and families, the homeless, and displaced people who may not have a stable home environment but may have access to an email account or telephone to get messages. Ideal for the current H1N1 crisis, these channels are equally valuable for people looking for jobs or seeking information about natural disasters and other important public health issues or crises. In short, the CDC’s social media response to H1N1 was a natural extension of an infrastructure already in place and ready to be exercised more fully. Unlike many crises, which catch organizations unaware, the CDC’s social media group – already validated and working closely with program and communication groups inside the organization – mobilized quickly and responded ably to the pandemic.

Tips for managing crisis in the era of social media


A cautionary tale
The CDC’s experience with crisis is probably a best-case crisis response scenario. Not every organization has so easy a time of it.
One crisis of now legendary status that erupted on social media is called the The Ranger Station Fire, subtitled How Ford Motor Company Used Social Media to Extinguish a PR Fire in Less than 24 Hours. The sub-title says it all. The story’s author, Ron Ploof – writing it as a cautionary tale of how a crisis can crop up and become a potential nightmare unless it’s addressed carefully – encourages every company executive to read it and beware. In fact, he invites readers “to copy, paste, send copies to your coworkers, your mom, dentist, etc. ...” In a nutshell, in December 2008 The Ranger Station, a Ford Motor Company fan web site, received a ‘cease and desist’ letter from Ford. Further, the Ford Motor Company wanted the web site’s owner, Jim Oakes, to give up The Ranger Station URL and pay Ford $5,000. Not knowing what to do, Oakes explained his dilemma on the open forum of his site. In less than 24 hours, he received more than 900 comments, with word spreading beyond his site to other fan sites. Luckily, Ford had a few months earlier dipped a big toe into social media, having hired consultant Scott Monty to help change attitudes about Ford in a time when The Big Three were being criticized for their alleged mismanagement and requests for bailouts. This work was beginning to pay off, with attitudes starting to shift. But The Ranger Station issue was a setback. Within hours of Oakes’ posting, Ford had received more than 1,000 negative email messages. Scott Monty took instant steps to manage the crisis, using Twitter and inviting Tweet recipients to ReTweet with a message that the problem was being addressed. This kind of viral response mechanism is unique to social media. With the fire still spreading but with the ReTweets doing their work (reaching nearly 14,000 Twitter accounts quickly), Monty was able to take the time to consult with Ford’s legal counsel to unpack the problem and, working with the communications team, to form a response to manage the crisis.

Responding to a crisis – a 6-point checklist
» Take action immediately. » Use the same media your audiences use. » Respond appropriately (it can be one-on-one, or a mass communication approach). » Be open and transparent when you respond. » Stay on the high road. Don’t engage in a negative way. » Be flexible. Sometimes crisis response tactics don’t work out the way you want them to. But don’t give up ... your reputation is at stake.

Tips for managing crisis in the era of social media


Recognizing he was dealing with passionate Ford fans, Monty decided the best thing to do was communicate directly with Oakes. Together, they ended the crisis by communicating repeatedly and effectively on The Ranger Station web site and on Twitter and elsewhere that the problem had been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

What Ford Learned
» Everything is public. People can dig up just about any information they want online. » Companies don’t talk: people do. Scott Monty led the response. Without his skill – particularly his judgment and communication skills – the response would have been a corporate one and, ultimately, far less successful. » Without support, new media fails. Scott Monty had the support of the C-suite. The result is the crisis started and ended quickly.

Listen up, will ya?
Social media has a number of unique qualities that more conventional media channels don’t possess.
As Scott Monty understood instinctively when he was dealing with The Ranger Station crisis, social media is a more intimate channel than others, and people using it engage on an issue when they feel passionately about it. In this setting, a response strategy has to take into account and respect the opinions of people involved. Integral to an effective response is listening – not just when a crisis is breaking, but on a day-to-day basis. Social media channels are here, they’re here to stay, and as Web 3.0 emerges fully, are becoming more powerful. The Ford Motor Company doesn’t need to be convinced to include social media monitoring in its broader communication investments. Having witnessed how social media could help them restore brand value, they learned with The Ranger Station issue that it can serve as an early-warning system for crisis while helping to protect brand reputation. Listening can be as simple as setting up Google alerts or incorporating more comprehensive listening, monitoring and analytical tools into existing communication investments. In dna13’s experience, listening and

Tips to get the C-suite on board
» Cultivate relationships. Don’t wait for a crisis to have a solid working relationship with your organization’s senior executives and decision-makers. Establish good lines of communication and trust early. » Get second opinions. If you see a crisis brewing, validate your instincts with support from others – your organization’s legal counsel, investor relations leader, chief operating officer, etc. » Keep the C-suite in the loop. With your listening/monitoring tools, you can feed them information about shifting trends, opinions, etc.

Tips for managing crisis in the era of social media


monitoring help organizations follow trends in customer or competitor thinking in real time. With appropriate and powerful tools in place, organizations can use their precious resources more strategically and effectively rather than have them manually monitor the endless volume of media channels and information. In the Web 3.0 setting, listening and monitoring are no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Brand reputations are challenging to build, but can be torn down in moments without the right protection in place. The shift away from conventional news sources to social media channels is reflected in the mix of reporters attending H1N1 briefings held by public health officials like the CDC – a phenomenon nobody would have seen even five years ago. Joining journalists who file stories exclusively for mainstream organizations are reporters who take on double duties – reporting for their mainstream channels and posting blog entries for their news outlet’s web site. Still others write only for online news outlets and blogs. And then there’s a layer in the social media environment where interested consumers gather information independently and share it with friends, family, colleagues and others interested in it. Any of the above may use Twitter to deliver messages to a large and loyal following because their knowledge of the issues makes them a trusted source of information. For each of these channels, there’s an audience. The splintering media universe is reflected in pandemic planning initiatives. Social media plans now take their place among conventional plans, which include crisis communications plans, risk plans, internal communication plans, marketing and advertising strategies, media relations plans, and so on. In an ideal setting, all these plans are linked carefully so that information is disseminated in a coordinated, timely, clear and transparent manner.

About dna13
dna13 is a leading Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider for public relations and marketing communications professionals around the globe. As the premier web-based application for media intelligence and PR management, the dna13 solution provides real-time access to TV, print, online and social media content, providing communicators the insight they need to plan marketing strategies, securely align corporate teams, synchronize the delivery of corporate messages, and engage with key stakeholders. © 2010 dna13 Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
dna13.com | info@dna13.com

+1 866.842.1723

Tips for managing crisis in the era of social media

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful