It worries me when crisis communication professionals are still advising their clients to avoid social media in a crisis. This article by Gerard Braud was brought to my attention on Twitter and I was left speechless as I read it.
It surprised me because I’ve seen other articles of his that provided sound advice. This article, in my opinion, did the opposite and I wanted to respectfully address why here today. This blog post isn’t meant to pick on anyone, it’s meant to take one professional’s point of view and rebut it with my own. Gerard, I welcome your feedback and our difference of opinions may make for an interesting podcast episode… consider this an open-ended invitation 😉
Fear will be your downfall, not social media
Social media presents so many powerful opportunities to communicate and build trusting relationships with your audiences. Just because people may vent and lash out against your organization is not a reason to hide and refuse to communicate on the channels that demand communication these days. Doing so will only hurt your organization’s reputation.
We’ve seen so many cases where social media was an asset in crisis communication (see below for links) and so many other cases where the lack of real-time and two-way communication was the organization’s downfall (see below for links).
Within his article, Braud makes the following statements, and I’d like to address each one and provide a different perspective.
Braud says: “Stop trying to fight the crisis on social media.”
It’s not about fighting the crisis on social. It’s about communicating effectively and in real-time, on the channels and platforms that your stakeholders want to receive (and look to receive) your organization’s crisis communications. Fighting social media will only further your frustration and bring you off-topic and off-focus.
Braud says: “It is difficult to Tweet your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to Facebook post your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to get in an online shouting match with idiots.”
Firstly, you aren’t supposed to tweet your way, or Facebook your way out of a crisis. That’s not the goal. Social media provides a way to disseminate your key message points to your key stakeholders. Messages, which I agree, need to be hosted on a platform that is owned by the organization, i.e.: the corporate website. The way you communicate and manage the crisis will be how you get “your way out of a crisis”.
Secondly, I agree. There should never be a shouting match with your stakeholders or audiences because shouting at people is not communicating with them compassionately. Social media provides organizations with a means to build relationships, give a voice to and speak with the people who matter most to your business. Calling your stakeholders idiots is also not something I would advise (to anyone). Presuming that they’re idiots because they disagree or oppose your organization is not the mindset that will help you overcome a crisis with your reputation in tact.
It’s true that social media can be a bully, but that’s not a reason to shut it down. It’s a reason to be prepared and to have a triage system that helps you respond when appropriate and continue to stay on-message.
Braud says: “Post your primary message on your website and share that with the mainstream media. Next, e-mail the link to all of your employees. After that, e-mail the link to other stakeholders. These are the core people who need to know your message.”
First of all, where do you think mainstream media is? They’re on Twitter!
Secondly, imagine if KitchenAid refused to communicate on social media immediately after their employee’s rogue tweet left them vulnerable to a defamation lawsuit. Imagine if they had, instead, communicated as Braud advises above. They would have been left with a far different – and far worse – outcome. The key audiences, who were communicating on and monitoring Twitter, would have not been included in those emails; the important messages communicated by KitchenAid in real-time would have been missed by nearly everyone had they published them to their website rather than Twitter; and the outcome would have been negative publicity which would have lasted quite a long time. Negative publicity that would have put a huge mark on KitchenAid’s reputation for the long-term. Imagine. They would have been referred to as “the company that defamed the President of the United States”, rather than “the company who knows how to communicate in a crisis.”
Though it’s important to identify who your stakeholders are and how you will communicate with them in a crisis, you need to meet them on their turf. If they prefer email, great! But there will be others (including the general public and the media) who will prefer to have your organization’s communications disseminated via social media and we can’t deny them this. Doing so will only end up hurting the organization.
Braud says: “If you post the link to social media, avoid comments such as, “We appreciate your support and understanding.” Such remarks encourage negative comments from the cynics who don’t understand your actions and who don’t support you.”
It isn’t about the cynics. They aren’t who you’re communicating with and they aren’t who should dictate your communications. Your customers, your clients, your members, the victims of the crisis, your employees, your supporters, the general public, the media – and the list goes on – are the people who deserve your sympathy, your compassion and the respect of your appropriate communications. Telling them that they aren’t worth of your appreciation because of the cynics who don’t understand or who are angry at your organization is not the right approach. Compassion is needed in a crisis. In fact, it’s one of the ten commandments of crisis communications!
Braud says: “In a crisis, people can talk about you on your social media site and they can talk about you via hashtags on other sites. Given a choice, I’d rather not have a history of negative comments on my own social media site.”
Way to hide and attempt to cover up… which has never resulted in good crisis management.
First, people don’t just use hashtags. They use blogs, news sites, Facebook campaigns, etc. all of which get indexed in the search engines and all of which have a heavy impact on your online reputation. Secondly, denying people their voice on your platform is not the solution. They will come back louder and with a vengeance. But the fact is that Braud is missing the biggest importance of them all. In a crisis, it isn’t about YOU. It’s about the victims and your stakeholders. It’s about giving them a voice and actively listening to them, validating them and righting your wrong in order to continue to build a relationship with them and be forgiven. Shutting down your platform will compromise this important objective.
Braud continues to say: “It may be better to take your social media sites down completely until the crisis is over. If people need information, they are smart enough to find it on your primary website.”
It’s not about being “smart enough to find it on your primary website”. It’s about being smart enough to provide the necessary information where your most important audiences are looking for it. Don’t assume that when you take down your Facebook page, people will instinctively go to your website. Instead, assume that when you take down your Facebook page, you look like a coward and as though you don’t care enough to communicate with your audiences or to own your mistake; that your fear dictates your crisis management and rest assured that people will not navigate to your website before they post, publish and share how your crisis management was to remove your social media channels in hopes that the crisis would go away on its own.
Braud says: “You may find that it is in your best interest to rely on conventional crisis communications tools.”
I’m sure that he’s referring to news releases, website postings, press statements – all of those one way communications that organizations used to be able to hide behind in a crisis. The reality is that those days are gone, whether you’re happy about it or not. But the point remains that two-way communication presents so many positive opportunities and advantages to organizations in a crisis. Opportunities and advantages that you’re denying your organization (or your clients) by sticking with this old and dated mentality.
Braud uses a rhyme: “tried and true beats shiny and new”
But social media, though once shiny and new, is now tried and true. Especially for effective crisis management. Don’t believe me? Check out the below posts… which are just the tip of the iceberg.
- Newborn Abducted from Hospital and Social Media Saves the Day
- Working With Your Community in a Crisis: How Officials of The Boston Marathon Bombing Did It Right
- Calgary Floods: Analysis of Crisis Leadership and Use of Social Media
- DKNY PLUS, here’s how they beautifully managed what Braud seems to be so scared of
- It’s No April Fool’s Joke, The Case of the Disappearing Facebook Account
- More crisis management case studies
Other worthwhile reads on this topic:
- Changing Technologies and Behaviours: The Social Media Imperative
- The 7 Deadly Sins of Crisis (Mis)Management
- 3 Steps to Communicating with All of your Stakeholders in a Crisis
- Don’t Fear Social Media Issues. Embrace 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.