How to Use Social Media to Manage a Crisis

From ostrich to lion, using social media when the ‘droppings’ hit the fan!

Any organisation can find itself in the middle of a crisis in a split second. It might be an airline dealing with a tragic disaster; a hospital overwhelmed by a local epidemic, or a bank suddenly reduced to chaos by the total failure of its computer systems.

Timely and appropriate response is key. The evidence is clear that how an organisation reacts can determine whether they even survive and the damage done.

This has never been as true as it is today with our online world with near global transparency. Bad news can be across the world’s media in minutes, eagerly picked up by networks starved of good content, and social media gives an almost instantaneous platform to create viral escalation.

But that social media may well be your salvation if you use it well to manage the crisis as it unfolds.

Firstly, you will need a plan; only you won’t have time to make a plan once the trouble starts. Don’t wait for the crisis to come, identify possible scenario solutions; involve your people, train them and practice; just as you would with a fire drill.

Understand how a crisis develops by researching recent events such as the banking crisis, food safety scares, or the actions of ‘whistleblowers’ and see how the response of the organisation helped to either limit or extend and exacerbate the damage.

‘Fight social media fire with social media water’ said Amber Naslund and Jay Baer in their book ‘The Now Revolution’; your tools are your website and your social media presence. Get them ready to go if the worst happens.

There are three strategies nature gives us for dealing with danger; run, bury your head in the sand like an ostrich and hope the problem just goes away; or stand and face up to it, taking the initiative. The ostrich is occasionally right and maybe a lock down is enough; restrict posts onto blogs and tweets and wait. More often a proactive approach is called for.

Hopefully you will have some of the social media monitoring software to hand; if not it could be a good time to invest. Closely watch how the volume of posts are growing and in which channels, including Twitter hashtags. Keep track of the ratio of crisis related comments to non-crisis related. This will, together with the volume data, give you some measure of how the crisis is escalating.

Identify the sentiment; tools such as Radian 6 and Meltwater Buzz can do this for you, and monitor the direction and severity expressed. Intervene with stakeholder groups to calm and moderate, and identify influencers, those who are pouring on fuel not reason and those who are fighting for you.

Honesty is usually the best policy when it comes to blame, but being prepared is the best policy when that crisis arrives.

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