Capitalizing on the New Crisis Timeline: Issues Management in the Social Media Age

That stories of irate consumers turning to social media to gang-tackle brands have become so commonplace, it can only mean one thing: The time to recalibrate crisis management in a digital world is now. Companies must have in place an adroit team that can fight fire with fire to counter damaging information that is spreading virally on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels. Every brand needs to dust off their crisis plan and create a new strategy for crisis management. In a world that is shaped by speed of response, it is critical to monitor what is being said about products, employees, executives and more, creating a new crisis infrastructure and delivering tailored messages to restore and enhance reputation. Recently, The Centers for Disease Control flooded social media with nerves-calming messages about the spread of swine flu. Even the U.S. Air Force showed up on Twitter to refute another government agency’s report that GPS technology may fail as satellites are not being replaced appropriately. Among the most notable recent examples is that of Domino’s Pizza. The company’s crisis team was put to the test when two employees posted clips on YouTube, one of which showed a staffer inserting cheese in his nose and then adding it to a sandwich. As discussion moved at lightning speed across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and dozens of other social networking sites, Domino’s responded—not just through traditional media, but via the same mediums as its attackers, posting an apology from Domino’s USA president Patrick Doyle on YouTube that included his personal commitment to finding out what happened and pledging to find a solution. Domino’s also responded to discussions on Twitter and Facebook. The brand gained support by taking a conversational approach with its customers, listening as much as talking, and responding in a manner that was approachable and transparent. To have the dexterity needed to react to crises in a social media context, consider these tips. â–¶ Plan ahead. Given the speed with which crises spread online, preparation is more critical than ever and plans need to be tested early and often. Consider how your brand/company/client could be impacted in a crisis situation, and from which angles, sites and communities. A thorough audit of your space will help you uncover these weaknesses and plan accordingly. â–¶ Know what your customers think, and use it to your advantage. In a time when the opinions of so many are so readily available, companies need to use their customers’ opinions to their advantage. Engage your customer in good times and bad, and in the end they’ll respect you for it. There are numerous tools available with which to measure the tenor and tone of conversations in the social media environment. Companies need to understand who their true brand ambassadors are and create a program to empower them. â–¶ Leverage the power within. In the excitement of finding these powerful and influential “fans,” don’t forget to look within your own ranks. Employees should be your No. 1 brand ambassadors. It is also important not only to recognize their efforts to promote the company’s vision, but also to ensure they are aware of the potential pitfalls. Develop a policy that suits your corporate culture and make sure employees are aware of its opportunities and limitations. Seemingly benign posts from an employee can bubble up to become problems down the line, such as the eager engineer sharing his insights into a pending product launch which hasn’t been formally announced to the public yet. â–¶ Plan for the worst, whatever that might be. Communications and product marketing teams should regularly brainstorm about what potential issues might materialize and then devise a response plan accordingly, ensuring that everyone is briefed on their individual responsibilities. Speed of response is critical, so even if the initial communiqué is, “We’re aware of this and are investigating it fully and will provide a further update at X time,” at least it shows the public that the organization takes the issue seriously. While it will not necessarily quell the rumormongers, it, at least, provides some breathing room before a more comprehensive response is issued and shows consumers that the company is engaged in finding a solution. â–¶ Communicate your intentions. Perhaps the most important step during a crisis is to make clear the company is taking steps to rectify the problem. Fortunately, today it is easier for companies to provide regular status updates, be it through a blog or a Twitter feed, so the public can see that progress is being made. â–¶ Pick your platform. Knowing how you will disperse your message via social media is critical. Social media is not one-size-fits-all, so companies cannot simply set themselves up on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and then blast out the same message that appears on their press releases. Organizations need to determine what their specific goals are for social media and ensure all elements tie neatly together. Otherwise, the strategy can end up being a series of siloed tactics that don’t contribute to the overall goal. â–¶ Remember that time is of the essence. Social media has the potential to move at the bandwidth equivalent of lightning speed. Your crisis plan needs to move just as fast—if not faster—to contain the beast. Paramount to this is monitoring conversations about your company, its products and its brands prior to a crisis. It is critical to understand not just the quantity but the quality of conversations taking place. From brand ambassadors to brand bashers, audiences are waiting to be discovered and engaged. Being able to marshal these resources in good times and bad puts you ahead of the game and will help you to prepare template statements for a myriad of situations. PRN CONTACT: Scott Allison is founder and CEO, Allison & Partners. He can be reached at

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