Be Prepared for #CompanyXHatesTheEarth
And not in the “sure, we have an old flashlight and a space blanket in the trunk” prepared. We’re talking about full-on, career- and office-saving crisis communications plans and execution strategy, for when serious, potentially business-altering emergencies and PR disasters rear their ugly heads.
For many, the idea of utilizing social media in times of crisis can be daunting. To some, it’s even counter-intuitive.
In a world where online communities can take over crowd-sourced events – “Toothpaste And Orange Juice”-flavored Lay’s Chips, anyone? – and most anyone with access to a computer or smartphone can pirate the best digital intentions of a brand manager at will, social media can at times feel like the root of the problem, and not the key to the solution.
But then, the reporting of crises has changed as well. Journalists no longer need or want to wait for an edited response, and will publish unverified, potential news bites as fast as their fingers can fly across the keyboard. Websites need your attention to drive ad revenue and share of voice, and they who report the quickest, earn all the spoils.
The reader has also evolved in the social age, to where corrections, additions or follow-ups that fall past the initial blurb are rarely, if ever, seen or echoed. The company that waits to craft and then post its crisis response is the company whose viewpoint doesn’t get shared, and whose reputation can be muddied long before the gravity of the moment can be internally measured or even felt.
This isn’t to say that the prepared response is no longer valid. In fact, it’s more important now than ever before. How it’s delivered however, has changed dramatically.
When news hits – especially bad news – the cycle moves into high gear faster and more fervently than ever. Reporters who do not have a relationship with your brand are reduced to scouring Twitter feeds and Facebook pages for corporate replies. With this in mind, the most efficient, timely, public and accessible way to respond to a crisis is through your already established, well-curated and direct-to-audience social media channels, to be shared out at a moment’s notice.
Socially delivered, community-based PR statements send out a strong, brand-approved message to the media, as well as informing and involving those who can impact your reputation the most – your Fans and Followers.
By preparing for the onslaught of negativity that can accompany crisis situations, you and your company show a united, involved and compassionate front, and can effectively drive away any perceptions of hiding from, being ignorant to, or ignoring altogether the problem and the plight of those affected.
Moving quickly to establish your point of view in fast-churning media reports and news cycles includes taking the lead in audience and community interactions, which can play a massive role in surviving potential crises.
Social media has become the #1 entry point for consumers in times of need both big and small, far outpacing traditional forms of customer service. Shoe fell apart? Post a photo to the brand’s Facebook. Power outage? Tweet at the energy provider. Large-scale environmental concern? #CompanyXHatesTheEarth will trend long before your morning coffee begins to drip.
Through being both available to and ready for the first round of user complaints and backlash to an event, you may effectively stop a wave from cresting over, and help control the potential flow of negativity to a lesser, more manageable level. For it’s important to remember that, especially in this world of expected immediacy and personal social reputation, the only thing that burns more than being wronged is being ignored.
Prepare and continually update your company’s response and communications strategy for a wide range of potential situations and emergency protocol, with real thought and care paid to the 140-character version. You may very well never use them – and we all hope this is the case – but if and when these negative events come forward, that subsequent hour or so needed to adequately prepare and get approval for a statement will be a lifetime in the digital space.
In short, be prepared to nip those seedlings of crisis in their social buds, or you’ll be pulling weeds for a very long time to come.