Happy New Year! Now get ready for crisis

Crisis Communications, Ruth Callaghan, Social Media

Ruth Callaghan 14 Feb 2017
4 mins

If you are operating publicly in 2017 it’s likely you will face at least one social media crisis, Ruth Callaghan a Cannings Purple Associate Director explores what you need to do to get prepared.

And even before you know the crisis has happened, much of the damage can be done.
Like an earthquake that threatens your building or a flood that undermines your foundations, the public opprobrium fuelled by social media — and the long-lasting implications — can be stunning.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Back in the 1990s, a group of researchers asked 1000 corporate leaders to name a potential crisis which worried them. High on the list were things like environmental pollution, product defects, an unwanted takeover bid or industrial disputes.

By the mid 1990s, the list of potential crises which kept people awake at night had moved on to include sabotage, extortion, dirty tricks or fraud, or financial crisis.

Today? Your crisis can be prompted by almost anything, from angry crowd members upset you cancelled fireworks on Australia Day, or because you have run out of noodles or because your chef has insulted one of Australia’s most fiery and high profile feminists.

Social Media Crisis

The reach and power of social media means when an issue hits, you can have thousands of angry people with virtual pitchforks at your digital door. And that can occur whether the trigger is something significant like a round of layoffs, or a relatively insignificant spark like a poorly-thought-out marketing campaign or tone-deaf social behaviour. 

In fact, it doesn’t matter who you are or what your business is, the power of social media can drop a crisis in your lap without any warning whatsoever.

Some US agencies are even encouraging firms to include an attack from America’s Tweeter in Chief in their crisis preparedness, “in the same way they would for a natural disaster,” after witnessing Donald Trump idly flame brands on Twitter ranging from airline giant Boeing to tax agents H&R Block.

So, what are the essential steps you should take for the crisis you are probably going to have?

1. Get a plan.

Even if you can’t anticipate what might set off the Twitterstorm or Facebook flame war, the steps you will need to take are the same: Respond, reassure, research, respond again, react. Your plan needs to figure out how you will do this within the absurdly tight time demands of social media. Who gets notifications when you are mentioned on weekends or after hours? Who has your Twitter password? How slow is your approval process? Who has final sign off? You need to know the answers and be able to wargame likely scenarios.


2. Prepare your statements now.

When something happens, you need to be out, publicly, with a response in about 10 minutes. You will need a holding tweet or post that acknowledges that something has happened. You may need a ready-worded apology for things you might have done wrong, and a more protective statement for those occasions where something has been done to you. Even a post that says “We understand an incident has occurred. We are finding out more information and will update in 10 minutes” is better than nothing. Start with holding statements for inadvertent mistakes, outside attacks and employee misdemeanour and build from there.


3. Pick your platform.

Twitter is the place for breaking news. Facebook is the place for connecting and seeking feedback. Instagram should not be used anywhere near a corporate crisis. Understanding the nuance of your social media platforms and having sufficient audience numbers to ensure you can engage when needed is important. No one wants to be like Domino’s Pizza, which infamously had a crisis that bubbled on YouTube for several days before the company set up a Twitter account with which to respond.


4. Be first and be credible.

It is essential that in any situation involving your business, you are the first person weighing in and that you have the right information on hand. For a variety of reasons, there will be people who make wild claims or spread rumours (“Four people missing! Body found!”) You need to be able to combat any inaccuracies and quash rumours fast. One technique is to run a regular ‘mythbuster’ series of tweets that correct any errors. But before you do this, you first need to know what is being said, so that leads us to …


5. Listen.

Every business should have social and media monitoring set up to capture what is being said about you so that if there’s a spike in negativity, or an emerging issue, you can react instantly. Frankly, a Google alert isn’t really sufficient. It won’t capture mentions behind paywalls, on some social channels, and won’t be in real time. Successful monitoring should include daily reporting, social media listening across platforms, early warning alerts if there is a change in volume or sentiment, or mentions from highly influential critics if, for example, a President begins taking pot shots.

In a crisis, you need an expert in your corner. Talk to us before you reach that point. 

Ruth Callaghan is Cannings Purple’s Chief Innovation Officer, a futurist and a leading media strategist with more than 20 years’ experience in corporate communications and journalism. Contact Ruth

Ruth Callaghan More from author

Ruth uses two decades of experience as a media strategist, communications adviser and journalist to develop, deliver and distribute messages that cut through.

She specialises in providing strategic digital and content services for clients, using the principles of newsworthy and engaging content to tell compelling stories. She is a skilled media trainer and works with professionals both within and outside the communications industry to develop their digital, writing and media skills.

Ruth’s work in this field has included developing digital and inbound marketing strategies for clients, including use of lead generation software, content marketing and social media. She works with emerging technologies including virtual reality in campaigns and continues to write for publications including the Australian Financial Review.

When not distracted by the next shiny digital tool, Ruth likes to holiday in cooler climates with her family or hang out with her stubborn Scottish Terrier Maisie.

More Crisis & Issues