Organisations should not dismiss social media as simply a tool for marketing. During a crisis, it can often act as the most effective means of communicating with customers, staff and suppliers.
Last week the pub chain, JD Wetherspoon quit social media, citing concerns regarding the "misuse of personal data" and "the addictive nature of social media". This follows a growing a techlash against social media, driven by scandals such as Facebook-Cambridge Analytica. While these frustrations are understandable, it’s important that organisations don’t underestimate the importance of social media and the role it plays in customer communication and crisis management.
Managing social media for well-known organisations like JD Wetherspoon is difficult. It is a big UK brand, serves large numbers of customers every day and has a high-profile founder known for being very vocal on political issues. As a result, those accounts do become a hub for complaints and a target for opposing political views.
Many commentators have looked at metrics like follower-counts and retweets and judged that the business won’t lose much by closing its accounts. That, however, doesn’t consider the value that these accounts have when an organisation needs to communicate quickly to a large audience. For a lot of people, the first place they will look for updates on a developing incident is social media. Without a corporate account, you are losing your opportunity to comment and provide official updates.
Organisations today are much more exposed to bad publicity because of social media – an incident can make headlines across the globe in minutes, potentially heaping huge reputational damage onto a business. How an organisation then responds is of critical importance, and social media is the mechanism for the fastest response.
Crisis Management was the theme of our most recent season of The Business Continuity Podcast and we heard several stories from business continuity practitioners about what can go wrong when handled poorly.
The best examples of crisis management comms on social media show that proactive engagement can generate goodwill and garner more patience from the public to rectify a situation. There are some simple steps an organisation can take to prepare for social media communications during an incident.
Make sure that your social media and crisis management teams are connected and know what circumstances require escalation. Speed is of the essence. In the past, an organisation might have a window of several hours to prepare a statement and release it to the press. The window to communicate to the public on social media is far shorter. Agree approval-requirements for different situations. What situation can be managed as part of the business-as-usual activity of the social media team and what should be escalated to crisis management?
Businesses that don’t deal with customer service issues on social accounts every day may not have a social media team prepared to deal with a serious incident involving injury or even loss of life. When an incident does require escalation, the crisis management Team should then be in control of approving any messages. The social teams will lead on distribution and managing the response.
If it is possible to anticipate potential incidents, prepare and agree draft responses in advance. Dealing with an incident is difficult and stressful so anything that can be done to increase speed and minimise errors is incredibly valuable.”
Recently, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) published a report discussing how nefarious cyber activity over the past 12 months has impacted UK businesses. It referenced the importance of organisations having effective media relations in place, that can react to an incident, reinforcing the value that social media has in supporting crisis planning. The move taken by JD Wetherspoon to remove itself from social media is bold, but other organisations considering a similar approach shouldn’t underestimate the value of social media in the wider context of emergency communications.
By Peter Groucutt, managing director at Databarracks
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