Editor’s Note: I am pleased to be providing you with a guest post by Jonathan Hemus, founder of Insignia Communications.
If you sell products or services to the general public, you’re probably already using social media to market your business to consumers. But if you’re a firm of accountants, a mining company, a merchant bank or an aerospace company there’s not much point in engaging with social media is there?
Well, yes there is.
In addition to the opportunities to communicate thought leadership, enhance your employer brand and connect directly with financial media and investors, social media is fundamental for reputation protection. In the event of bad news, you won’t choose to engage with social media, it will choose to engage with you (the spoof Twitterfeed @BPcares which attracted 160,000 followers during the Gulf of Mexico incident is testament to this).
More than that, social media provides a powerful channel to communicate messages directly to stakeholders in the event of a crisis. One of the first rules of crisis communications is to fill the information vacuum, ensuring that your voice is heard by key players. What better way to do this than by embracing the opportunities provided by social media?
That’s almost certainly the regretful conclusion of Lonmin, the mining company at the heart of a major crisis this autumn when 34 striking miners were shot dead by South African Police. Lonmin had clearly considered social media as a possible communication channel: that much is clear from the Twitter and Facebook buttons which appear on its website homepage. Unfortunately, when you click on the buttons, a pop up window appears which says “Social Networking – Coming Soon”. That’s not very helpful for Lonmin’s reputation management when it needs to use all means at its disposal to reach stakeholders affected by the crisis.
So, even if some corporates and B2B organizations may not yet buy into the benefits of social media for reputation building, they surely need to recognize them when it comes to reputation protection. As a minimum, I suggest the following four steps to ensure they are geared up to deal with a social media crisis:
1. Develop, communicate and embed a social media policy
Just because a corporation isn’t using social media doesn’t mean that its employees aren’t (in fact they certainly are). And employees can sometimes be the catalyst for a major crisis, often through “loose talk” (for an extreme example of how this can damage an organization take a look at what happened to Goldman Sachs when a senior executive chose to resign via a blog posting). So developing and communicating a social media policy which explains to people how they should use social media in a professional context is the essential first step.
2. Re-consider your reputational risk assessment
All prudent organizations conduct reputational risk assessments, indeed technically or operationally focused B2Bs/corporates are especially good at this. But the power of social media means that incidents and issues are now both more likely and more impactful than ever before. Risk assessments need to reflect this: review them with a fresh pair of eyes to ensure that they do.
3. Implement online media monitoring
You can’t manage a crisis if you don’t know it’s happening. Social media provides a valuable early warning mechanism for crisis prevention. Tracking what’s being said about you online enables you to manage incidents before they become crises, and respond quickly if a major issue emerges.
4. Create online crisis communication channels
You’ll find it challenging to deploy social media in a crisis if you’ve not been using it beforehand. Nevertheless having a crisis “dark website”, a dormant Twitter account and maybe a YouTube channel set up before a crisis will provide access to the power of social media in the event of an incident. Granted you won’t have relationships with existing followers to call upon and you’ll need to develop an appropriate online tone of voice during the crisis. Despite these hurdles, it’s still better than scrambling to set up these resources in the heat of a crisis, or trying to communicate with stakeholders without them.
Note from the Editor: Having “dark social media channels” is not one of my typical recommendations due to the obstacles that Jonathan has listed above – and then some. However, Jonathan is offering this as an option to those companies and organizations who do not wish to have any social media presence as a rule. In this case, yes, you should at least have some dark channels set up (user name and domains registered, logo uploaded, etc) and ready to be activated on the fly.
Social media can be deployed by all organizations as a driver of reputation in good times and bad: indeed, many corporates are now embracing this opportunity. But for those who don’t yet see the positive commercial value of full engagement, taking the four steps outlined above will certainly enhance your ability to protect your reputation in the event of a crisis.
Jonathan Hemus is the managing director of Insignia Communications, a UK-based reputation management consultancy specialising in crisis management. He is a sought after trainer, coach and speaker on crisis and reputation management and has spoken on reputation management, crisis communication, PR and business continuity at national and international conferences and events, most recently the International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference in Florida. He is a guest member of the Henley Business School faculty and a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. Follow Jonathan on Twitter or contact him directly by email: firstname.lastname@example.org