Digital Crisis Communications: Litmus Test for Evaluating a Crisis

Social Media Crisis Communications

When your critics start calling you out on Twitter and Facebook and your social media monitoring tools start turning up all kinds of negative posts on Instagram and Pinterest, your first impulse might be to gather your key stakeholders and move into social media crisis communications mode.

But before you assemble your communications team and implement your crisis management plan, make sure that what you've got is an actual, bona fide crisis situation by using this litmus test for gauging an effective crisis on social media.

Determining an Effective Crisis
Outspoken criticism on Twitter is not necessarily a social media crisis. What or who is being criticized? Is it product performance or something else?

Consider this example of a real world social media crisis that came about as a result of Motrin running ads that offended outspoken moms and dads and got huge media attention.

Social media pundits lined up with their recommended examples who they thought this brand should have handled this social media crisis dubbed the Motrin Moms fiasco.

But product sales and the company's stock performance was completely unaffected. So before you assume you have a social media crisis on your hands, ask yourself whether or not the criticism impacts performance.

If they're simply criticizing the insensitivity of an advertising campaign, your corporate communications teams should be able to provide an even handed response without necessarily sending out a press release on the newswire.

Managing a Crisis
Nothing gets under the skin of free speech activists more than a company that is trying to hide something.

The reason people support controversial projects like Wikileaks is because they believe sunlight is the best disinfectant.

If your social media crisis is the result of a perceived leak, unless you acknowledge the problem, you may have a real crisis on your hands.

But if your perceived crisis is really just an errant post from a misguided employee's social media account, don't over react.

We all makes mistakes.

There's no better way to keep a story alive than by denying it exists, so acknowledge whatever went down, tell us how you'll prevent it from happening again, and put it behind you.

Chose the media channel to respond through based on (1) the severity of the crisis situation and the specific social network where you the crisis erupted.

A critical social media post on Twitter or Facebook can probably be resolved by a response from your corporate social media account. You don't always need to issue a press release.

Crisis Management Plan
Mistakes are an important part of innovation, and innovation is about being the first person to try something new.

Innovators are like leaders because they step out from the pack and try something new.  So if you're not making mistakes, you're not innovating.

Trial and error is the mother of invention.

You cannot innovate unless you're willing to fail.

Digital transformation is innovative. So unless you're willing to be tolerant of your own mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others, you can't be innovative.

If your social media crisis is real, there's plenty you can do, but only if you're aware.

So monitor social networks and respond quickly. And make sure your employees have social media training accessible so they know not just how to use social media, but how to use it responsibly for business.

Social media policies alone are not enough. Key stakeholders need formal training on those policies as well so they understand and are able to be faithful to their obligations.

I'll be discussing Social Media Horror Stories with Marla Schulman @DvinMsM , Jen Mathews, @TopTierMedia and Cynthia Kahn, @cynthiakahn on a panel organized by Social Media Club L.A. next Tuesday at 6:30PM at The HubLA.

How do you judge what constitutes a social media crisis? What aspects of online crisis communications management are most important? If I use your comment in the panel discussion, I promise full attribution.