Crises in an Instant World

Back in January, Jeremiah Owyang posted about the need for a Presidential tweet crisis contingency plans. This spurred a good number of (threaded) comments on my Facebook post, and I noted that I had pitched a SWAT team at a PR firm, but nothing ever happened with the idea (good idea 10 years ago, even better one now - and with better tools). And a few of the comments noted that most PR people nowadays do not have crisis communications experience or skills, especially the startups with young “senior” practitioners.

Yes, I know, I need to blog more often and faster since others are having these conversations now … when I was having them in early January.

And, in an informal survey of friends, those that are qualified to have plans noted that they do not have a social media crisis plan written out, nor the talent or bandwidth on the social team to be able to write one that would actually work.

That makes sense to me - not a good thing, but it makes sense. The skills and soft touch for crisis are a dying skill, and on social things get blown up so fast and quickly, it IS hard to separate and not take it personally. Having operated an early Twitter account for a corporation, it is hard not to take it personally when you’re called a liar, get hate on the brand and worse. (The better fun is leaving and watching the contributions get Orwelled - but that’s the PR life!).

But back to Twitter. I have been bearish on Twitter for the past few years, looking at it as a necessary evil for brands and public relations. Necessary as it is nothing more than a customer service tool for brands - especially consumer - as consumers move to Twitter to bitch and complain and expect immediate response. Necessary for public relations because the latest generation of media loves to be on Twitter in a ego-gratification world where they believe their tweets are important and should be read (yes, there is a whole other rant there, and part of why I would like to see Twitter just die and go away).

Now, it is even more important or a necessary evil for brands because you never know when it will be your turn in the spotlight. And as has been noted by others out there, everything is political now, and while politics is personal, everything is personal too. And having that social crisis plan in place should save some headaches, heartburn and gray hairs.

Brands are now personal, are personalities and people have a connection to them. And personalities are brands, with people following some like they matter. So brands - especially tech companies that have been beating their chests on changing the world for better - are being called out to take a stance in politics, and that leads to another crisis or two or three. And personal brands are being called into question and on the mat for not necessarily taking a position.

Everyone has a right to express themselves in their own way on social, and just like it is not their place to tell me what I should or should not be posting, it is not my place to tell them what to post or not to post. Social has ruined most discourse between people - and that was before this election - so I will keep my friends all over the spectrum and listen to what they have to say. Until they go on ad hominem attacks.

Social has devolved into a tiring experience for people with all sides being draining, and leading to many (including me) taking Facebook off mobile. I have even been off Twitter for the most part because it has become such a cesspool of politics and attacks, that I am just following and focusing on things that are related to work (yay B2B enterprise technology) and not posting anything on my Twitter accounts.

But back to the original point: in a time where almost anything and everything is devolving into a crisis - including Presidential tweets - and other issues on news out there, it is best to have a fully updated and polished crisis plan that includes traditional and social strategies. Those range from the traditional press release, prepared messaging for all the platforms that are written in those platforms patois. Every platform has its own voice, and audience and you want to write and speak in that voice.

That is the key here: crisis work is about planning and preparation. In the days of yore with the traditional news cycle, you had time to plan and respond. In a digital world, that time to plan and message is gone - you need to be immediate and that is where planning is key and having the experience sets apart crisis from CRISIS. Plus, the timeline is accelerated on everything, including the share of mind for people. The public gets upset immediately, but also moves on faster to new things.

Plus, crisis usually starts in places that a company least expects it. With the focus on social selling and employee engagement, every single employee is now a representative of the company. We have seen crises started at the lowest level employees at fast food restaurants that blow up through social. And we will see more and more crises start with employees sharing their personal political views - personal is political, political is personal - and the corporations and businesses needing to clean up the messes. What we have seen so far are corporations firing those employees, but is that really the best way to solve the issues?

Even with the best crisis planning and execution, the key thing is to make sure that the people in charge actually listen and understand the counsel, and are supportive of what needs to be done.

Sometimes, though, nothing is the best strategy in social as social is a short-attention span theater, and people over-react. Plus, well, lesson number one should always be “don’t engage trolls.”

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