July 23, 2012
How Social Media is Affecting PR Crisis Management Plans — And How PR Can Best Prepare
By Leroy Flowers, Freelance Writer
It's safe to say that social media has taken over many aspects of the public relations field, much to the frustration of PR professionals. With the extreme popularity of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, news often gets out (and many times, gets distorted) before it has the chance to go through proper public relations channels. These sites are making it harder and harder for firms to do their jobs, especially in times of a crisis. When something goes wrong, the news spreads remarkably fast through the regular media, and even faster through social media. One post on Twitter can reach millions of people at once, and from there it is virtually impossible to stop. When it comes to crisis management, PR firms are having to change their plans to incorporate and utilize these social media sites in order to get the correct information out to the public.
Breaking news often might only have a sliver of truth to it in today's society. People post tweets and Facebook statuses without discovering what the facts are about the situation. This leads to many different versions of the same story, many of which are going to be largely false. It is the job of public relations professionals to get the real story out to the public. Because so many people are on Twitter and Facebook, this can be challenging, if not impossible. Combatting the public's opinion is a daunting task to say the least. Because of this issue, people are being forced to change their crisis management plans.
The goal of any crisis management plan is to quickly and effectively spread the facts of a crisis and to reassure the people that everything is being done to resolve the crisis. Most of the time, this requires having solid social relationships before the crisis happens. If you have the trust of the people involved and the people who are affected by the crisis, you will be able to handle the situation better, and without as much social outcry. Trust is always a major component when delivering news of any event. The more credible you are, the more willing people will be to trust what you say and to pass on the truth of the situation.
Another important aspect of the crisis management plan is to have someone in place to monitor social media conversations. Google Alerts is a great way to do this. A crisis can often be avoided by discovering a potential problem early on and responding to it as quickly as possible. In the event of a large crisis, it is important to know what people are saying, so that you have the information you need to properly address the public's concerns. By addressing the real concerns of the people, you will not only be handling a crisis, but you will also be building your reputation with the public as a credible source of information.
All companies can predict the types of crises they might have in the future. While no one can predict the exact crisis that might occur, there are always general types of problems that companies can prepare for in advance. A great tool to have ready to use is a black page. Black pages are basic landing pages that companies can create in advance that answer questions about a general crisis. These pages can be integrated into your website immediately after a crisis occurs. That way, when people visit your website to get information, the information will be there, instead of making the people wait until you have a formal statement about the event. If you wait to say something about the crisis at hand, you will not only lose credibility, but you will be allowing the people on Twitter and Facebook to make up their own stories about what is happening in your company.
Many companies now have social media experts. These people tweet and create Facebook statuses that promote company products and services, as well as keeping up with the company's fans. In a crisis, these people are very valuable. They are able to read everything that is being said about the event and respond to people who are promoting incorrect information. Having a social media responder on hand will allow your company to send out the correct information and put out any fires that are spreading from false information.
After the crisis has passed, it is best to have a response message posted on the Internet about the crisis. These kinds of messages normally come from CEOs or high-level managers who have been affiliated with the crisis. Messages can range from assuring people that the crisis is over, to a detailed description of what happened and how the company fixed the problem. To utilize social media, many times these messages are in video format and posted on blogs and YouTube, with the URLs posted on Twitter and Facebook.
The goal of having a crisis management plan is to manage the flow of information about a crisis. This can be difficult with social media. But if the social media is used effectively, it can be a powerful tool on your side. By using social media to manage a crisis, you can build up your credibility. By having the reputation of handling a crisis well, you will be able to handle future crises even better, because you have gained the respect and the trust of the public, and the trust of the public is a necessity when it comes to handling a crisis.
Leroy Flowers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys the challenge of writing on a variety of topics. He has an Associate's degree in Business from University of Phoenix. He contributes to Degree Jungle, an online resource for college students.