The RMS social media team recently attended a Social Media Breakfast presentation by Greg Loh, Managing Partner at Eric Mower + Associates. Aside from the great coffee and pastries, our team received an information-packed 90 minutes of social media crisis management gold. Although our social media team prides itself on staying up to date on the latest trends (it must be the researchers in us… we’re curious by nature), Greg provided insightful tips that any reputation management professional would find useful. Social media has been known to fuel fire under public opinion, and the popularity of this communication medium seems to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. The presentation touched on two main types of social media crisis situations and how to deal with them – crisis + social and social = crisis.

  • Crisis + Social

The influence that social media plays during a crisis has heightened over the last decade, with everyday people (not journalists) commonly breaking news stories via social media outlets. A prime example that Greg gave during the presentation was the US Airways plane landing on the Hudson River in 2009, later dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.” The news of the plane landing on the Hudson River instantly became worldwide news when Janis Krums posted a picture of people entering life boats from the plane. Greg noted that the online world “amplifies and accelerates” a story to make it big news. Given the unpredictable nature of crises, it’s imperative to be cautious about automated social media or any communcation. Even if the crisis is not directly related to you or your company, if your social media activity or automated survey seems insensitive, the public backlash could create a firestorm of bad press for the company. Listening is critical for companies engaging in social media activity.

  • Social = Crisis

When a crisis surrounding your organization originates on social media, Greg recommends that in some instances you should wait before reacting immediately. Of course this does not apply if there is a safety concern or an issue (e.g. a chemical spill) that must be addressed immediately to avoid further damage. For less serious public relations issues, Greg recommends monitoring social media negativity to determine if the content is gaining steam. Often minor social media crises self-regulate through what Greg called the “social media washing machine,” where one story is replaced by the next. When addressing a social crisis, it’s best to focus on incontrovertible facts and third-party support. Unless social comments are highly inflammatory, derogatory, or defamatory, resist the urge to remove critical commentary. By addressing the issue, you have the opportunity to turn a critic into a supporter by finding a solution to their dissatisfaction or disagreement.

To close the presentation, Greg provided a crisis management survival strategy. Essentially, it boils down to figuring out what people want, need, and/or expect in a crisis/emergency situation. The public generally wants to know:

  1. That you have noticed the problem.
  2. That you care.
  3. That you are in control of the situation.
  4. That you are doing something about it.
  5. That you are minimizing damage.
  6. That you are taking steps to make sure it does not happen again.

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