A crisis in 2013 vaguely resembles a crisis of 15 years ago. Today, social media can be both a curse and a blessing in an emergency. Managers must understand that with the power of real-time comes a huge responsibility to learn how to use the media responsibly. One piece of misinformation posted on social media during a crisis can start a cascade of panic that is almost impossible to stop.
Gerald Baron, president of Agincourt Strategies, put together an excellent video synopsis of the news cycle before the advent of social media. Here was the process:
Event occurs -> Information gathered by Public Information Officer -> Information given to media -> Media gives information to public
This cycle was specific and predictable. No matter what the crisis was, its timeline was controlled by the company or organization handling the crisis, with the help of the media. The public trusted traditional media to provide the necessary information it needed to digest the event.
Today, a brand can have a crisis on its hands before they know it. The speed of social media and the reach of the social graph can escalate an event, one that was probably just an issue in Crisis 1.0, into a global viral mess that wreaks havoc on the best of organizations quickly. Add to that the unchecked presence of personal social media accounts under the brand’s umbrella, and we have a perfect storm.
Almost half of the crises studied by Altimeter in a 2011 report were caused by bad social media behavior. Irresponsible use of social media sabotages the positive work done by company communications professionals who are trying to build loyalty and advocacy. Public relations offices have to deal with rogue employees, untrained social media managers, opinionated customers, and a whole gamut of operational emergencies. One solution to the pressure cooker is creating a culture of responsible use, and it starts with training.
We sometimes operate under the notion that integrity and courtesy are common values shared by all, but they are not. We expect it, but we don’t always get it. We have manuals of style, social media policies, logo rules, and editorial calendars. But we don’t have any common guidelines for showing people how to use social media responsibly.
This dilemma motivated me to write a new manual called Practice Safe Social. It was designed with social media managers in mind but the applications quickly grew to C-suite people, marketing teams, customer service teams, and even personal brands under the organizational umbrella. Virtually everyone that uses the media needs to understand the benefits of responsible use and the consequences of irresponsible use.
So let’s look at the three teaching keys that can help you build your own training.
1. Teach Them How to Protect Privacy:
Personal brands (presidents, administrators, salespeople, executive directors, politicians, celebrities) need to know how to protect their privacy. Facebook alone has over one billion active monthly users and 13 million of them have never touched their privacy settings, according to recent research done by Marketo. There is a vague understanding of where the settings are, but a seeming ignorance about what they actually do.
In a recent piece in the Spokesman Review where people were interviewed about which social media channels were best, they answered they liked Twitter because it was more private than Facebook. In truth, it’s the opposite. Facebook can be very private and focused. Twitter is public unless an account is protected. Worldwide in 2012, only 12 percent of Twitter accounts were protected.
Privacy training needs to include discussions on how to use the settings themselves: what the traps are, tagging, location-enabling, setting posts to public audiences, sharing too much profile information, and using wisdom about who to friend to name a few. It should also include a look at some of the most dangerous trending applications such as Snapchat and others.
2. Teach Them How to Build and Protect Reputation:
This is the place where you get to show the good, the bad, and the ugly. And you won’t have to search far to get examples. The internet is loaded with screenshots of the bad and ugly. I like to show how one bad tweet can plummet a reputation and how maintaining a positive and engaging social stream can build trust—kind of like filling a well you can draw from when times are tough.
What happens when people trust you? According to the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, when a company is trusted, 51 percent of people will believe positive information about the company after only hearing it one or two times. Only 25 percent will believe negative information after hearing it one or two times.
But what if you are not trusted? According to the same Edelman report, 57 percent of people will believe negative information about a company they do not trust after only hearing it once or twice. Only 15 percent will believe something positive about the company after hearing it one or two times.
This is also the section where you tackle the tricky subjects and taboos—when to sit on your thumbs. Also, talk about how to listen, how to apologize, and what kind of positive subjects to talk about online.
3. Teach Them How to Build a Personal Brand and Fan Loyalty:
Social media is today’s resumé. In a survey of employee recruiters, Reppler found these interesting stats.
- 91% use social media to screen potential employees.
- Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the major channels screened.
- 69% have rejected a candidate because of what they saw on social media sites.
- The major reasons for rejection were because they lied about their qualifications, posted inappropriate photos, posted inappropriate comments, posted negative comments about a previous employer, and demonstrated poor communication skills.
- 68% said they hired someone because of what they saw on a social networking site.
In the training manual, I listed several preferred profiles that people should set up online if they want search engines to show personal information they put together, and not what others say about them. It’s true you can’t delete the bad stuff, but you can build a searchable presence online strategically. Teach people how to be their own media.
Creating a culture of responsible social media use will not only lower your risk of an online crisis, it will help you build loyalty and advocacy through your social media channels.
Chris Syme has over 25 years’ experience in the communications industry and is principal at CKSyme Media Group, a consulting firm in Bozeman, Montana. Her agency specializes in reputation and crisis communication services including online monitoring and social media training. She has a BS from Montana State University in English and a MS from Eastern Washington University in Athletic Administration. Her new e-book, Practice Safe Social, is available on Amazon.com.