Remember when you used to hear about a crisis first on the Six O’Clock News? Now many bosses probably long for their dirty laundry to get its first airing there, because it might just give them an hour or so to plan a response.
These days within minutes or even seconds of your catastrophic commercial cock-up, you’ll find it’s a little bird not a news anchor that’s most likely to tell the gossip-hungry world all about it. Yes, the cute little blue Twitter bird can be a mighty bird of prey, quickly picking up the scent of possible carrion.
The speed of the dissemination is scary enough; but what’s more worrying is, unlike reputable news channels, random tweets about your bad “news” are probably unsourced and unchecked. Do not expect accuracy, balance or context.
Do expect to be an unwilling participant in a potentially very dangerous game called catch-up.
And faster than you can say “Holy Geek-fest”, a sort of cross-contamination has set in with Facebook comments and blogs turning your issue into an amorphous and seemingly uncontrollable mass.
So how do you stop social media turning into very anti-social media, which threaten to ruin your business?
In many ways the key principles of traditional crisis management still apply:
- Be prepared. This means closely monitoring what is being said about your business, so you can nip potential issues in the bud. There are many tools such as Social Mention, Topsy and TweetStats that can all help you track what and how much is being said about you “out there”. Preparation also means establishing relationships with key bloggers and Tweeters in advance.
- Respond. Don’t hide; instead deal constructively with criticism and correct inaccuracies. Social media is not merely a platform for marketers and the disgruntled public; it works best when it’s a conversation.
- Be vigilant at all times. Crises invariably break outside of “office hours”. Tweeters and Facebook fans don’t expect to clock off at 5.30pm on a Friday afternoon, so nor should you – your business should consider monitoring and responding round the clock.
- Be quick, but not hasty. Every second counts, but don’t feel obliged to respond to the truly nutty rants of every troll, or you risk feeding the monster.
- Be transparent. The temptation to obfuscate or perhaps delete criticism may be huge. But it’s far better to defuse an issue, to disarm with charm.
- Be proactive. Beat them at their own game – use social media as one tool of many to get back on the front foot. For example, if you’re issuing holding statements and press releases, make sure you’re tweeting links to them, or have a Facebook page where people can go for more information.
Above all, stay calm. Tackling social media when it’s dining out on a crisis might initially seem like trying to beat back a forest fire with a handkerchief.
And – but don’t tell the geeks – you might just find that when you’re in the heat of it, fronting up on a major good ol’ TV channel to put your side of the issue across can instantly douse the flames.
Then watch the flood of tweets and blogs about your crisp, clear and controlled performance prevent the issue re-igniting.