The term “social media crisis” has lost all meaning. With everybody calling every issue that takes place on social a crisis, and with social media marketers, PR professionals and others claiming that they’re “social media crisis specialists” I have no choice but to roll my eyes and laugh… and help my readers not fall into these categories (or get fooled by those professionals).
Why don’t I like the term social media crisis?
Because a crisis is a crisis is a crisis. And the truth is that the majority of negative situations that play out on social are not crises at all, they’re issues, yet everybody still refers to them as social media crises.
Yes there are crises that begin, play out and end online. For example, I recently had a client who faced a crisis that had a deep, negative impact on their bottom line and reputation and that took place entirely on Instagram. Though somehow referring to a crisis as a social media crisis takes away from the severity of it all, though this is probably due to the public’s over-use of the term. It also does not encompass the impact that the search engines have on the organization’s reputation, because the reality is that nothing is exclusive to social media, it all plays in together.
Taking a quick look at a crisis vs. an issue
Crisis: A crisis is a negative event/situation that has, or threatens to have, a direct negative impact on the organization’s reputation and/or bottom line, for the long-term.
Issue: An issue is a negative event/situation that does not have, or threaten to have, a direct negative impact on the organization’s reputation and/or bottom line for the long-term.
*Note: Of course, the definitions of crises vs. issues are unique to each organization. The above definitions are a generalization (and a good place to start when defining each for your brand).
The fact is that whether a crisis begins in the real world (an oil spill, an emergency situation, etc.) or online (United Breaks Guitars, Domino’s Pizza crisis, etc.) it threatens to have the same long-term repercussions on the organization’s reputation and/or bottom line (usually both). A crisis, when truly a crisis, is not lessened just because it may or may not originate online. Nor is it ever exclusive to only social media.
However, it is OK to categorize crisis and issue situations as “physical” and “digital”, so long as you realize that whatever physical crisis scenario may occur, it will most likely have some sort of digital component/presence within mere minutes.
So no, I do not like the term social media crisis because:
- It is over-used and used incorrectly
- A true crisis is never limited to only social media
- There’s no need to include “social media” as a prefix
Note: You will catch (or have caught) me use the term “social media crisis” on occasion – but mostly in past posts and ebooks. This is done strategically for SEO purposes. Since it is the term that the majority of people use and search for, I have, in the past, chosen to use this term where I felt it would drive the most traffic in order to benefit the most amount of people. However, going forward, you won’t catch me using it!
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.