We’ve seen a lot of discussion about Fortune 500 companies using social media as a tool to mitigate risk, with some industries revolutionizing risk management through the application of digital media. But how prepared are organizations for dealing with the spread of a digital crisis gone viral?
We recently completed our Corporate Communication Index 2010 Study, speaking with communications leaders from a select group of the Fortune 500 on the use of social media in their organizations, among other issues. One telling finding was that the majority of organizations are still in the process of formalizing their social media plans, including plans for how they should deal with a viral crisis should it occur tomorrow. With many companies focused on mitigating risk through direct engagement with customers and stakeholders, more companies need to be planning for how they will deal with the dissemination of and syndication of a crisis that hits their business online.
For example, the airline industry understands its digital niche, knowing that the majority of dialogue surrounding their business in the digital realm occurs on Twitter. Delta Air Lines has revolutionized its approach to handling customer service complaints. They established a “control room” where employees can track every word spoken about the company online on big-screen monitors streaming social media platforms in real time. Through a combination of technology and savvy employees well versed in social media strategy, Delta exemplifies the strategic aspects of mitigating risk. However, many businesses are not in a position where there is a clear emphasis on one dominant form of social media communicating messages about their brand online.
Traditional crisis management planning is constructed to be flexible, presupposing change and variations in how an issue might be discussed in the mainstream media or by stakeholders. Online, however, there are steps that can, and should, be taken by organizations to allow for a greater level of control over the breaking of a crisis across the digital landscape. This is why identifying a company’s biggest online influencers, and building relationships with those influencers, is of the utmost importance for practically every enterprise. Organizations need to know where conversations surrounding their business, products, or services live online and follow these influencers, perhaps even actively build relationships with them. Ensuring your organization knows where issues relevant to your business are being discussed online is one of the most important building blocks of any digital crisis management plan. Remember that one influencer, and their followers, are part of many communities, and the potential threat to your organization’s reputation is increased exponentially as a result. It isn’t the size of the influencer that counts, it’s their relevance in the digital realm.
Like understanding the volume and location of discussion surrounding your brand, understanding the use of your organization’s social media properties is paramount to the success of any strategy. It’s not uncommon for us to hear of the decentralized use of social media across platforms and business units, sometimes working in direct opposition of the others. For this reason it is often helpful to understand the different audiences that frequent your properties and how they use them. If you know your Facebook page is largely frequented by one group and Twitter by another, it makes sense to tailor content to the specific audience, or in some cases, utilize only one property for a given action. This strategic approach to content distribution ensures that the right stakeholders are receiving the proper attention from their desired channels.
Having the right people, with the right guidelines in place helps ensure that the business is well equipped to act when a crisis hits online. Too often companies focus solely on tactics that mitigate risk, ignoring the long-term harm that a lack of strategic purpose behind their social media platforms brings. As we head into an era of rapidly increasing corporate participation in the digital realm, those who take the time and effort to craft and implement strategic social media plans tied to a larger crisis management effort will be ahead of the game in terms of managing the ever-increasing risks associated with being a part of the digital landscape.