With more than one billion dynamic Facebook users and an average of more than 400 million tweets posted every day, there is no doubt that social media has changed the way in which individuals share data. This is something that is having a profound impact on corporate communications, particularly in the field of crisis communications. Potential issues that may previously have been limited in their audience scope now reach millions when posts go viral.
Organisations or brands affected by an issue highlighted on social media need to effectively harness its power to counter the crisis. Crisis management in the social media age means maximising its use as a tool; in particular its influence in speed, engagement, message control, interactivity, authenticity, cross-boundary nature, visibility and transparency.
What is a Crisis?
Although there is no single definition of a crisis for a business, generally it can be considered as any occurrence that has a negative impact on its brand, reputation or operations. This may involve a financial impact, harm to individuals, prevention of the company’s daily functions and a threat of or actual damage.
How does Social Media Impact Crisis Response?
In analyses of how social media changes customers’ responses to crises, research has shown the need for strategies and systems to address issues; including two-way dialogue, use of video technology, monitoring communications, listening to the audience, having an existing relationship with the consumer pre-crisis and being accountable, honest, open, transparent and credible. It has also found that showing a human, authentic and compassionate face is vital. The speed with which information can move immediately has been identified as key to prevent the escalation of a small crisis to a major one, which can occur within days, hours or even minutes in some cases.
Core Concepts: The Four Phases of Crisis Communications
Readiness: A crisis management strategy starts with planning before the start of an actual crisis. In this way, when a situation breaks, responses are already in place and can be put into action immediately.
Response: Moments of crisis interrupt normal operations for an organisation and require an immediate reaction. By responding promptly, the organisation or brand validates that it is taking the incident seriously and ensures that its message is a part of the story right from the onset.
Reassurance: From the initial response, powerful crisis management needs to lead with an investigation and action plan that is geared around rectifying the issue. Reassurance involves showing the company’s commitment to transparency and letting the public know that they intend to share the results of the investigation as well as take remedial action.
Recovery: Dealing with a crisis is about more than simply limiting damage in the short term. It also involves restoring an organisation’s long-term reputation and preventing a recurrence. Releasing communications relating to company changes is an important part of demonstrating the organisation’s responsiveness and its continued commitment to making things right in the future, as well as in the here-and-now.
Social media has both changed the way crises develop and take structure and the methods and strategies of crisis communications that are required by affected companies to address them. It supports the application of the two-way symmetrical model of public relations and identifies how previous strategies – once prominent and effective in fixing or repairing a damaged image or reputation – are less relevant in the contemporary media environment.