Prattle & Jaw

Copy, blogs, and bits and bobs

Social Media and Crisis Management

I recently wrote a paper on social media and crisis management, claiming that social media have revolutionised crisis management. I've decided to upload the paper to get feedback mostly - if you feel like it - but also just to give anyone who fancies it, a little something to read.

Here is (most of) the introduction, to see if it's anything for you:

"The shift in power and communication levels – the shift in ‘voice’ – means that organisations must begin paying an increasing amount of attention to what was once the passive consumer. Consumers, sophisticated and hungry for opinion and information about the company behind the brand, have recognised their ability to make their opinions, expectations and aspirations heard. As a result, they have developed behaviour approaches to filtering the information they desire, no matter how many sources it comes from, and relaying this information through newsgroups, chatrooms, consumer groups, blogs and other forms of social media. This multitude of sources is made up of thousands upon thousands of strangers, yet the information swapped is trusted. In other words, people can be so convinced of the value of peer networks that they will trust the advice of a total stranger over that of a professional marketer (Gillin 2007: xiv).

The globalisation of markets, issues, events and society through technology, namely the Internet, is leading to the reconstitution of many ‘publics’ (Moore and Seymour 2005: 61); virtual groups forming online , building trusted communities, with many sources. This explosion in consumer-to-consumer communication can not be ignored by organisations, not only in order to keep track of public opinion and focus on needs, and awareness, but also to be fully aware of just what is being said about the organisation online, and how the channels of communication can be opened up into a two-way dialogue; “In the future, rather than being focused on effectively communicating to the public, PR professionals will become increasingly involved in communicating with the public” (Coombs 1999: 41).

Organisations must begin to take notice of these online communities, this virtual world. Navigating this world and finding out where consumers and stakeholders go to communicate is just as important as what is said once they get there. Social media1 represent these new forms of communication. They are ongoing conversations between one and the world; interactive, democratic, allowing anybody to say anything to anyone. They are made by everyday people covering almost any subject, and they are everywhere. Everything can be, and is discussed, from brand to service to mission and vision, forcing organisations to become porous, exposed, and open to scrutiny, all beyond the control of the PR (public relations) department.

Consumers have the power to discover, and every action by an organisation is debated as though it is transparent, and if it cannot be transparently defended, then it will be attacked (Phillips 1999: 20). These demands place a great deal of pressure upon crisis and issue managers within organisations. It was said that a dissatisfied customer tells 10 people, but in this new age of social media, that same dissatisfied customer has the power to tell 10 million – approximately 50 million blogs alone existed in 2006 (Solove 2007: 21), and this number keeps growing. Organisations must be able to be online, scanning the social media environment for any flippant blog post or tweet2 from an irate consumer, so they can take steps to avoid this comment being read and reposted or retweeted3 over and over again. Organisations must also take in to consideration the possibility of a crisis occurring in ‘real life’ (e.g. product tampering, safety crisis, etc), and the aftermath from this. Consumers will have questions, fears and doubts, and these emotions and demands must be ceded to. But how can crisis and issues management accommodate these new demands? Intense stakeholder and consumer fears such as concern, anger, hate, trust, anxiety and panic always fill the opening stages of a crisis or issue (Moore and Seymour 2005: 69), fears which translate easily on to the Internet, and spread. Stakeholders turn to the Internet seeking information and answers, but if the organisation concerned has no online presence, will only encounter rumours and gossip. Reading these and reposting them will only increase the power and perceived reliability of that rumour or gossip. “Consequently, many stakeholders, especially those unfamiliar with the threatened company…may grapple with strong emotions in the face of an IT-sparked information deluge, and will use the technology at their disposal to effectively fan the flames” (Moore and Seymour 2005: 69).

Everything about crisis management and communication4 has changed. From, as Moore and Seymour state (2005: 148), the “…possible vulnerability and society’s view of those vulnerabilities, the choice and frequency of crisis-triggering events…the capacity for damage and the options for resolution”, to the crisis plan, the strategy, the team, and the tools. Coombs (2007: 171) claims that he is “…not one to believe that new communication technologies, the Intranet and Internet to be more specific, will replace…old technologies. The Intranet and Internet can be valuable additions to the crisis management process but will not revolutionise it”, but the old crisis models are becoming defunct, and wise organisations are recognising that communication’s future does not exclusively lie in separate boxes marked ‘human resources’, ‘marketing’, ‘investor relations’ or ‘public relations’, due to the worldwide democratisation of information and communication through social media, and the Internet. In light of these changes, and in light of this claim, what this paper will explore is; how have social media revolutionised crisis management?"

So, if you'd like more, just find the paper in it's entirety, right here.

There are mistakes - I'll be the first to admit that, and there are also grey areas such as the difference between crisis communication and crisis management. However, some of these areas are glossed over as I did have a limitation on space, a pity really, as full discussion of said areas would have provided a much more detailed paper - obviously.

There are also a number of references to page 20 of a book, e.g. (2007: 20). The frequency of page 20 is due to the fact that I no longer have the book in question, and can not find the exact page. However, author and year are correct.

Copyright © 2014, Lara Mulady. All rights reserved.