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CIPR Skills Guide: The role of social media in crisis / issues management


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This document was created panel after an in-depth panel discussion that covered how different companies, airlines and government departments handled situations of crisis and particularly, their use of social media. This 9-page guide covers the role social media plays in a crisis and outlines key points to consider when such events occur.

Published in: Marketing

CIPR Skills Guide: The role of social media in crisis / issues management

  1. 1. CIPR Skills guide The role of social media in crisis / issues management This article is worth 5 CPD points PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT –
  2. 2. 2015 has already seen a number of high profile crises take front and centre stage in the media. Companies such as Thomas Cook and Alton Towers have had to face up to tragedies suffered by their customers and there have been several aviation disasters with catastrophic loss of life. Some parties involved in these crises have handled the communications around the devastating situations effectively, responding with empathy and showing genuine concern. Others have seemingly taken communications advice from lawyers – responding ‘no comment’ in a bid to not become accountable for the situation. With the net result a further damaging of their reputation and making them appear ‘cold’ and calculated in the process. On the 9th September 2015, The CIPR social media panel met to discuss the role of social media in a crisis by looking at these recent events and discussing how the different companies, airlines and government departments handled the communication – in particular their social media – surrounding these situations. This document discusses the role social media plays in a crisis and outlines key points to consider when such events occur.
  3. 3. 3/ CIPR Skills Guide: The role of social media in crisis / issues management The roles of social media in a crisis One of the key findings from the panel’s discussion was that PR professionals don’t need to be intimidated by social media during a crisis. The basic principles of effective communication have not changed – as communicators we now just have more channels to consider and have to react to the concerns in ‘real-time’. Dallas Lawrence, senior vice president and head of corporate communications for Rubicon Project, backs up this point: “From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, good PR efforts have not changed. We are just so tied up in the new platforms that are out there, we forget basic media relations practices.” Lawrence also suggests looking at three roles social and digital media play during a crisis: 1) Social media is an instigator. Lawrence states that previously we didn’t have platforms to record our every thought or record every silly mistake. Social media makes it easy for people to spot and share mistakes that companies and individuals make. 2) The next role is that of accelerant. A similar crisis may have happened 20 years ago, but it would not have spread so quickly without social media. Lawrence details we must be prepared to act immediately instead of waiting and seeing how the crisis develops. 3) The third and most important role social media plays is that of an extinguisher. Lawrence outlines that we can use social media effectively before, during, and after a crisis to mitigate the damage and, in some cases, actually eliminate the crisis. Categorise your crisis from the offset Eric Dezenhall, author of The Glass Jaw, explains the importance of categorising a crisis at the offset. Understanding the fundamental nature of the crisis will inform your strategy and help you choose the right tactics to effectively tackle the issue. Eric divides crises into two categories: ‘sniper’ and ‘character’. “A sniper crisis is episodic, caused by something external or accidental, and is often superficial. Think: The Dominos Pizza employee who was filmed engaging in disgusting behavior in a kitchen where food was being prepared and posted it on YouTube, and when Southwest Airlines kicked off a heavyset passenger who happened to be a movie director with 1.6 million Twitter followers. A character crisis has at its core an intrinsic flaw or pernicious behavior. Think Enron, BP, or even the meanness associated with charges that New Jersey governor Chris Christie jammed the George Washington Bridge to retaliate against a political intransigent. Social media lends itself better to tactics associated with sniper crises, which require simple points of information, apologies, corrections, or recommended actions associated with episodic events and customer service updates.”
  4. 4. 4/ CIPR Skills Guide: The role of social media in crisis / issues management Points to consider Before • Be prepared: Rehearse diverse scenarios before a crisis happens. It is impossible to predict and prepare for every circumstance, but simulations give you the ability to react better to the unexpected. • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse: Simulate a fake crisis situation and make executives play different roles so they can see the crisis from a different perspective. • Set up a crisis response team: Make sure the team has the authority to act and is properly media trained. • Make sure that employees know who is in the crisis team and how they should act during a crisis: Employees must understand the boundaries and be clear about the external communications policy. For example, they must know they can not communicate externally during a crisis either on social media or otherwise. • Consider creating an early warning system: Put a process in place to detect a potential crisis if you have a known or perceived threat. • Make sure you have the admin and detail covered: Save your CEO’s/ clients’ phone numbers in your mobile. • Have a checklist of things to consider during a crisis: Always keep in mind the following: –– Objectives –– Messaging –– Speed –– Credibility –– Audiences –– Partners –– Platforms –– People –– Resources
  5. 5. 5/ CIPR Skills Guide: The role of social media in crisis / issues management Points to consider During • Take a temperature check: Social media is a listening tool first and foremost. Review and understand the situation. Don’t instantly react. Avoid fanning the flames by overreacting to a simple issue. • Understand if it is a crisis or is it simply noise: Is it simply people retweeting a news articles or are people sharing their opinions? • Identify the source of the issue: Understand where the crisis has originated from. Confirm the source, date and location. • Verification is key: Check the user generated content that you’re monitoring in order to make informed decisions about how to react from both an operational and communications perspective. • Remember verification is a process: One clue leads to another. Always ask, how do you know? • Set up a hub which commands, controls and coordinates (this can be virtual): Ensure you connect with key decision makers as part of the process and don’t treat social media as separate – it should be integrated. • Make sure you react to the crisis in a timely manner: Keep concerned parties up to date with the relevant information. • Ensure you’re joined up and your internal and external messages are aligned: Don’t forget to let your employees know what is happening and keep them updated. • Make sure everyone on the “crisis response team” can access relevant information when not in the office: For example, keep files in the cloud, social media passwords safe, chargers at home and contact numbers accessible. In other words, if all your office systems went down, could you still operate and communicate and know how to reach each other? Be prepared for none of your contingency locations to be available and being unable to access any of your corporate IT systems – this really happened during the Oslo bomb. Don’t just rely on technology, it is still essential to have paper contact lists. • Ensure your messaging is robust: Be honest, be clear and show you care. • Make sure all your messaging is verifiable: Reputable media will ALWAYS verify it. • Put time stamps on information on intranets and websites: Update employee intranets and websites with the time and date of the latest information, and when you expect to update it next. This saves employees asking “when will we know more?” • Consider the formation of the messaging and avoid bombarding people with lots of information: Three is recognised as the optimal number of messages in one piece. See Dr Vincent Cavello’s work linked below which optimises absorption of key messages; it’s based on using 27 words, 9 seconds and 3 key messages. • Know when to speak, when to shut up, and when to act: Ultimately you must establish what has gone wrong and then set about ensuring it is put right. • Always listen: If it’s the only thing you do on behalf of your organisation or brand, listen carefully. Use tools to spot the trends and use experienced people to analyse them. • Turn off ALL scheduled posts/ tweets as soon as the crisis unfolds. • Keep in mind that not all social media is equal: A company’s Facebook page is not necessarily the best place to handle an issue from. Don’t assume every issue needs full blown response on every channel multiple times. It may not. • Remember on social media you have an audience: People are watching, make sure they are aware of your solutions if you take the conversation offline (email /phone for further discussion, verification ) or on another social platform. A study by Cision (see link below) also shows that 25% of Twitter’s verified users are journalists, so bear your audience in mind. • Don’t forget that social media is not just a broadcast mechanism: Your approach should be collaborative/engaging. • Use tools like Echosec and Geofeedia to monitor social media activity in specific geographic locations: Not all tweets etc will mention the keywords you are monitoring.
  6. 6. Points to consider Legal • Remember that there are a number of different ways to apologise without admitting responsibility: Consider legal advice as to whether to accept responsibility; let this guide the response but do not let it override responding in the right way in a timely manner on reputational issues. • Audit the legal side of reputational risk: Make sure that the company ‘legally owns’ its own Twitter handles, Facebook pages and other relevant social media channels. • Check all employees are signed up to the relevant contracts: The contracts should oblige them to keep information confidential and oblige them not to bad-mouth the company. • Consider what information you can stop being published using either legal tools or using the relevant regulator such as IPSO. After • Review what happened: Understand what you learnt and what you could do differently next time. • Capture what went well: Record and save the information shared during the evaluation process to ensure you can easily access it again in the future. This saves you trying to remember what was said last time and can save you time, money and effort. 6/ CIPR Skills Guide: The role of social media in crisis / issues management
  7. 7. Essential reading, listening and watching Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal: by Eric Dezenhall: Centre for Risk Communications’ Dr Vincent Covello: OECD paper on public Governance: “The Use of Social Media in Risk and Crisis Communications: pdf?expires=1441716794id=idaccname=guestchecksum=59F617945C47A5D29C41567A11AC40A2 Cision’s plan is also a shorter helpful guide: “How to Plan and Manage Crisis Communications in a Social World”: International Air Transport Association Crisis Communications and Social Media Guidelines Verification Handbook from the Centre for Journalism Continuity Insights Report: Contrarian view of crisis comms: • Elayne Phillips MCIPR, Prime Minister’s Office Cabinet Office Communication • Andrew Smith MCIPR, Founder, Escherman Examples Burger King’s Twitter account gets hacked: HSBC: Lufthansa via Burson Marsteller: Redcross: A recent London Fire Brigade tweet was commented upon by the CIPR Social Media Panel: 7/ CIPR Skills Guide: The role of social media in crisis / issues management
  8. 8. About the CIPR Social Media Panel Founded in April 2010, our Social Media Panel (#CIPRSM) plays a significant role in the development of Chartered Institute of Public Relations policy guidance, education, and training on the topic of digital and social media in public relations. #CIPRSM is made up of some of the foremost social media thought-leaders and contributors. Since its formation in 2010, #CIPRSM has delivered publications, guidance and sector- leading events. With thanks to The following panel members co-created this document during a CIPRsm Hackday on 8th September 2015. • Co-Chair – Gemma Griffiths MCIPR, Managing Director, The Crowd • Hanna Basha ACIPR, Legal Director, Hill Dickinson LLP • Dominic Burch, Head of Social, ASDA • Stuart Bruce FCIPR, Principal, Stuart Bruce Associates • Russell Goldsmith MCIPR, Founder, Audere Communications • Gabrielle Laine-Peters Digital and Social Media Consultant • Rachel Miller MCIPR, Founder, AllThingsIC • Elayne Phillips MCIPR, Prime Minister’s Office Cabinet Office Communication • Andrew Smith MCIPR, Founder, Escherman Disclaimer This document does not constitute legal advice nor does it claim to cover all eventualities in a crisis communications situation. Rather the panel wanted to document the hints, tips and considerations mentioned during conversations at a CIPR social media panel meeting. 8/ CIPR Skills Guide: The role of social media in crisis / issues management
  9. 9. Chartered Institute of Public Relations 52-53 Russell Square London WC1B 4HP +44 (0)20 7631 6900