5 Strategies for Managing an Online Crisis

Barely a week passes when a company or brand doesn’t hit the news for all the wrong reasons. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick videod being a jerk to one of his drivers; the PwC Oscars’ Best Picture mis-announcement calamity; Samsung’s flammable Galaxy Note 7 smartphone…just a few that spring immediately to mind.

And make no mistake about it, these three examples really are crises. A real crisis, as opposed to an ‘issue’, is something that affects a company’s reputation to the detriment of revenue, or a company’s share price. It’s not an errant tweet or a consumer kicking up an almighty fuss about poor customer service at 5pm on a Friday afternoon (hey, we’ve all had to deal with it, right?!).

And in the age of digital media, an issue can become a real crisis in super-quick time. Social media enables instantaneous communications that make it hard for companies to control how they are perceived. Information from Freshfields Research has shown that more than one in four crises spread nationally within just one hour. Within 24 hours, it will have spread to 11 countries.

The average time it takes a company to release an official response? 21 hours. Oops.

So what can you do to navigate an online crisis of any kind as and when it breaks?

Act Fast

Let me be completely clear about this: silence is never an option. Never underestimate the public’s appetite for spreading bad news. If you really want to contain a situation, a simple holding statement or response should be posted within 15 to 30 minutes of news breaking on social media while you try and uncover the facts. Being absent from the conversation will only stoke the fire.

Respond Selectively

The simple truth of an online crisis is that you cannot respond to everyone. While you might love your community managers to reply to every upset person, in a real crisis situation that is simply not possible. Not to mention the fact that @OutragedFromBournemouth will join in just for the hell of it. So carefully choose who to respond to according to their specific issues or their influence. Use your head.

Own The Conversation

Taking and maintaining control in a crisis situation is imperative. And it’s also incredibly difficult to do when rumours and misinformation can spring up at any time and from anywhere. But being seen to keep people updated by publishing regularly (see ‘silence is never an option’), communicating the facts clearly and directing people to relevant information goes a long way towards staying in control.

Say Sorry

In an online crisis situation you’re going to be dealing with a lot of very emotional people. And a simple apology is one of the most powerful weapons in your armoury. An apology does not have to be an admission of liability and neither should it be if you don’t know the facts. But empathy is hugely undervalued. Use it.

Stay Professional

Some of the worst social media crises have occurred when the poor souls manning the keyboard have been goaded into arguments and lengthy tete-a-tetes. It’s easy to say and not so easy to do when you’re having to put up with abuse, but not getting defensive is of paramount importance. One slightly off response and you could find yourself in a firestorm.

At Digital Download London I’m running a digital media crisis simulation in conjunction with Kate Hartley from Polpeo. Working in teams on Polpeo’s fantastic simulation software, you’ll manage a fictional ‘fake news’ crisis as it breaks across social media and online news channels.

The simulation will give you a real feel for what managing a digital media crisis is like. You’ll get lots of helpful hints and tips, and it will enable you to start thinking about what plans need to be in place to mitigate potential crisis situations.

Digital Download London takes place on April 27th at a cool venue in Islington. Tickets are ON SALE NOW, although spaces are limited. 

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Posted in Editor's Picks, Public Relations, Social Media

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