There has been a lot of online chatter lately regarding what a “true” social media crisis is. Many are arguing that a social media incident is only really a crisis when all business must cease and total, irreparable brand-damage is on the horizon. Think traditional crises such as the BP oil spill, Tylenol (because I know tons of you are thinking Tylenol right now!) and, most recently, Carnival Triumph.
The individuals arguing this point are not wrong.
However, there are also arguments stating that recent online issues, such as Chick-Fil-A and Applebee’s are not technically social media crises, because business did not need to come to a complete halt.
There is a difference
There is a different between a social media crisis and a social media issue, as I mention often within these blog pages. However, what I would like to address within this post, are the differences between traditional crises and “new-age” or social media crises. Because there too, lies a difference. One that many are not realizing.
Now before I explain, let me clearly state that: there are social media crises; there are social media issues; there are traditional crises that naturally evolve to taking place online, social media included; and there are crises that begin and end on social (and the Internet as a whole). Within this post, I am referring to those that begin and end online.
Traditional crises, the type of business-halting incidents that companies have been facing since before social media was even close to existing, have a definition, as is stated above. The examples of BP, Tylenol and Carnival Triumph are examples of major crises that absolutely affect the way a business will function during the crisis, as well as post-crisis.
Crises that form and die online are different. A ship can’t sink online. People can’t get cyanide poisoning online. Oil can’t spill and polute the earth and water, online. However, damage can be done to a brand’s reputation online. People can voice their opinions by the millions and bring an organization to a paralyzing halt, online.
My point is that traditional crises and online crises, though often intertwined, when differentiated on their own, as I have done above, are different. They’re both potentially damaging in their own way, but just because they don’t have the same cause and effect, doesn’t make them any less of a crisis for the company facing them.
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.