Social media is changing crisis communications: Are you prepared?

I recently ran a short workshop on managing your online reputation for the Yorkshire & Lincolnshire group of the Chartered Institute of PR. We had a mixture of in house PR practitioners and consultants working with clients across a number of sectors.

What they all had in common was the recognition that social media is having a massive impact of how their business or organisation is perceived and how it communicates with customers and key audiences.

These events are good for sharing concerns and best practice. Here are some of the issues and topics from the workshop.

1. Strategic Twitter and Facebook – how to get rid of the trivial

Some delegates had concerns about trivial and inappropriate posts. Revealing your personality on Twitter is fine, but when does it become trivial and reflect badly on the business? It’s difficult if it’s the boss who’s churning out banter on Twitter or posting silly photos on the organisation’s Facebook page. Everyone agreed that as the consultant or in house PR you have a duty to advise on the impact of such posts on your organisation’s reputation.

Introduce a policy for employees so that they know what they can and can’t do. You might suggest that your boss Tweets under their own name and you have a separate business Twitter account that is very strategic. Everyone needs to understand that whatever they post on their personal Facebook and Twitter can affect the company.

2. Be proactive with a blog

Although all delegates were using social media, mainly Twitter, I was surprised at how few were using blogs strategically as part of their communications’ strategies. A blog is an excellent way of being proactive in terms of managing your online reputation. You are in control of it, can say what you want and it can reflect the values and personality of your organisation. Regular blog posts provide fresh content which is helpful for Google searches. It’s also a great way of engaging with your customers and contacts as you can email them about a post they find interesting and ask them to leave a comment.

3. Have a plan for your crisis communications

No one at the workshop had experienced a significant crisis involving social media but a few people mentioned that they had concerns about a couple of issues that could flare up. A negative story about your organisation is likely to spread like wildfire across social networks and you must be prepared to respond quickly.

Apply the same rules as for managing your offline reputation and ensure you have a strategy in place in case of a crisis. You should monitor online mentions or your organisation. Google Alerts are free but if you need a more sophisticated monitoring method you can buy specialist software – Radian 6 which was recommended by one delegate. Your strategy should include procedures to be followed, chain of command (who needs to know), spokespeople and their contact details.

Although bad news travels very fast online, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook provide companies with opportunities to communicate effectively in a crisis, to publish apologies and to clarify the facts and issue statements to a wide audience.

Have you seen crisis flare up or damp down with the use of social media?

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Carol Arthur is senior account director at Northern Lights PR. A trained journalist with wide-ranging experience in business, education and consumer markets, Carol has worked in or headed up the PR departments of two colleges - the North Eastern Co-operative Society and Northumbria Tourist Board. A graduate of Common Purpose, Carol is currently regional chair of the CIPR, the industry’s professional body. She is a member of the PR degree employer advisory panel at Leeds Metropolitan University. Carol is an active supporter of local charities and the community helping with fund-raising and PR activities.

  • Olivia Landolt

    Hi Carol,

    Great to hear that Radian6 was mentioned and thank so much for including us in your round up post.

    Olivia | @livslandolt:disqus | Marketing and Community Manager | Radian6