How social media has changed crisis communications

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Slideshare of a speech I gave at a Social Media Summit in Guildford about the impact of social media on crisis communications, and how to use social media in crisis communications

Slideshare of a speech I gave at a Social Media Summit in Guildford about the impact of social media on crisis communications, and how to use social media in crisis communications

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  • What do you think of as a crisis? Of course there are high profile crises - the BP oil spill, Toyota having to recall their cars, the ash cloud stopping flights. But a crisis can hit any business of any size. What is the worst thing that could happen to your business? Something that starts off as a bit of a problem, can easily turn into an emergency and then a crisis if you don’t handle it well.  So a crisis can be anything that interrupts the smooth running of your business. And social media has made the potential for a problem to escalate into a crisis so much greater. Some examples: If you have a business that relies on deliveries … bad weather, road delays or strikes or anything might stop supplies or deliveries. This would have a major knock on effect on you supplying your customers. Then all it takes is one person to post on FB or Twitter – I’ve been waiting over two weeks for my new sunbed to arrive can’t believe how bad the service is from Sunbeds are us. If you have an outbreak of illness among staff, that might also stop your providing your products or services.  If I’d felt ill this morning – or even if my son had felt ill, I might not have been able to give this talk (you might all have heaved a sigh of relief). But then you take to Twitter and complain that you’d been looking forward to hearing about Crisis comms and social media and can’t believe I didn’t show up, and that has an impact on my reputation Your company has made some kind of mistake.  They happen – they’re not necessarily anyone’s fault, but sometimes they are. You could even spot the deliberate mistake in our flyer that is in your delegate pack.  After all, everyone makes mistakes. Nowadays your clients and customers shout about it on social media expect & an instant response. I know, I’ve done it myself. We had a problem with our energy supply when we moved house. The normal customer service was rubbish, so we took to Twitter. And it got sorted immediately.  You have a disgruntled employee. Do you remember HMV? When they went into liquidation, they made their staff redundant. And as they were doing it, the communications team were tweeting from the company account. Now, if people are unhappy about their job, they won’t just be complaining to their wife, their colleagues or in the pub, or to their wife. They’ll be on social media.
  • As you know, social media is free, everyone has access to it, it’s public – so everyone can read what is posted, it’s instantaneous, so news good and bad can spread like wildfire. Just last week there were two high profile examples of businesses whose comms teams should know better trying to use social media to improve their communications with the public but ending up shooting themselves in the foot. The first was British Gas, where the head went onto Twitter to answer questions about their price rise and received a torrent of abuse. The second was Ryanair, where the chief exec Michael O’Leary did a live Q and A and also received some major of abuse – which he answered in his typical combative style - and also started a row about sexism when he made a sexist comment about a woman.  And as they both found it’s impossible to control.
  • That Ryanair story found its way into the Guardian, the Independent, Entrepreneur magazine, Marketing magazine, Sky News – hang on, given Michael O’Leary and Ryanair’s reputation maybe that wasn’t such a bad result.  And what that shows us is that Twitter and other social media have completely changed journalism.  Everyone can be a journalists nowadays and break news – often hours before the traditional media  As a result, journalists use Twitter and other social media as a source for stories, quotes. You just have to look at any newspaper or listen to any news bulletin nowadays and there’ll be mention of comments that were made on Twitter. Most journalists are on Twitter, they use it to promote their stories, and to source stories.  So if they see lots of hashtags about a particular issue, or complaints about something, they’ll follow it up and investigate. And if there is a crisis going on, they’ll be using social media to find out more, to monitor the changing situation.
  • So if your company has a problem, there are some big disadvantages in the development and popularity of social media Firstly, as Ryanair found, your company can attract negative comments. A lot of our clients are in the chemical industry, and companies in that field are terrified of using social media because of they are scared of opening up a dialogue with local people and protesters who would be able to openly complain and attack them. Secondly, if there is a problem, then will spread now far faster and far farther than it would have without social media. Journalists who might never have known about it can now find out and publicise the news. Thirdly, you can’t control what’s posted and you can’t prevent anyone posting anything.
  • But it’s not all bad news. All disadvantages of social media in a crisis can be advantages as well. Firstly, it is a simple communications channel with the public, which everyone – all your customers and suppliers – can have access to. Just look at how rail companies and airlines use it nowadays to post about delays and problems.  Secondly, it is immediate – anything you post is there immediately. So there’s no delay in vital information getting through - you don’t have to call everyone/email everyone and it gets the information to a wide audience all in one go  ABRSM in the snow And thirdly, you’re not reliant on the media to deliver your messages. In the past, to get your message out to your clients and the public, you would have to contact them individually, or do an interview with a newspaper, or issue a press release. So you were reliant on them deciding that the story was interesting enough to run, or that they had enough space to include your whole statement. Now you can also post everything on Twitter and FB for everyone to see. 
  • But, it can all go wrong, as HMV found. So you need to be prepared. Firstly, you must have a clear crisis communications strategy which includes social media.  Secondly, your accounts should be set up in advance, even if you don’t use social media very actively. The last thing you want is to be trying to write your FB or Twitter profile when your building is falling down around you.  Thirdly, you must have a good social media policy, which all your staff agree to, which includes what to do in the event of a crisis.  These would include who can post what and when, who monitors social media, what the approval process is for posts, the policy for handling negative comments – and to prevent leaks out of the business if something has gone wrong. 
  • I mentioned a policy for negative online comments – and its worth just spending some time talking about this, because if you handle them badly, that could escalate into a crisis and if you handle them well, you could just enhance your reputation and win a raving fan. So:  Respond promptly, but not in the heat of the moment Don’t delete negative comments – you may look as if you’re censoring them and have to defend it. Be constructive, show good customer service Don’t be abusive or offensive - take the high moral ground Take the discussion off-line if necessary Duck out if you realise you are making things worse  
  • If you are in the midst of a crisis, there are some golden rules on how to handle it and protect your reputation   Make sure you monitor continually – you have to know what’s being said about you & respond to what is going on.  Assign someone to monitor social media.  Give regular updates. This provides information to the public and to journalists – if you don’t then someone else will be speculating – you want to be the ones filling that space with information, not someone who you don’t know, who might be critical or plain wrong. Don’t allow speculation to spread. If there is speculation, respond to this and correct it. All posts must be accurate & approved. Your senior team must know the key messages and up to date information and take responsibility for all communications. Don’t let a junior take charge Stay constructive & factual. Don’t guess what is going on – you might create a hostage to fortune. Provide helpful and informative updates  Co-ordinate website & social media. Use social media to link to fuller information on your website, to give statements, to link to press releases 
  • Rough House has a range of services – we can help with crisis management audits, with crisis communications training and we also offering ongoing crisis communications support. We are also running a workshop in association with PR experts, Potion PR which is aimed helping senior executives learn how to communicate well and protect and enhance their reputation – in which we’ll be covering crisis communications. It is called Leadership Communications: Risk Reputation and Responsibility and it is on 22 November. If anyone is interested in finding out more, then please come and ask me. We are offering a 10% discount on new bookings to anyone at the conference.          


  • 1. Crisis Communications using Social Media Ann Wright Rough House Media
  • 2. What counts as a crisis? Angry employee Staff sickness Mistakes Bad weather They can happen to anyone …
  • 3. Has social media changed the game? o o o o o Free Open access Public Instantaneous Impossible to control
  • 4. How has it changed the game? o Citizen journalists o News often breaks first on Twitter o Most journalists on Twitter o Journalists monitor social media
  • 5. A ticking time-bomb? o Can’t control what is posted o Forum for complaints o Bad news can go viral
  • 6. Online bomb disposal? o Vital communications channel o Conveys information widely o Immediate o Under your control
  • 7. How do you prepare? o Social media policy o Staff sign-up o Policy should forbid leaks o Accounts activated o Crisis comms strategy
  • 8. Defusing a bomb (negative comments) Respond promptly, but not in anger Be constructive Take the discussion off-line if necessary Don’t delete Don’t be abusive or offensive Know when to duck out
  • 9. Defusing a bomb (a major crisis) Monitor & respond Quash speculation Be accurate & approved Give regular updates Stay constructive & factual Co-ordinate website & social media
  • 10. Our services Media Training Crisis Management Video & podcast production The training packages were excellent - thorough, carefully researched, tailored to individuals. Designed to build confidence and enhance strengths as well as address weakness across a range of interview and media scenarios. A good investment in premium training delivered by highly experienced professionals. Media & social media consultancy
  • 11. Crisis Communications Services o Crisis management strategy o Crisis communications training o Ongoing crisis communications packages 020 8332 6200
  • 12. And finally …