The impact of social media on communications and news
The impact of social media on crisis and issues management
Sometimes, a social media storm can be started by human error. An errant tweetmight find its way onto your Twitter stream because of a simple mistake.That might be setting up auto-retweet wrongly. BT blamed technology for anextremely sweary, racist and abusive tweet that went out from its official account.
Or that error might be putting a typo in an auto-tweet, like this one that went outfrom the UN stating that Ban-Ki-Moon was calling for a 1-state solution in the MiddleEast. The tweet was scheduled to go out while its author was on a conference call.
Avoid drunk Tweeting. Although I love the official response: a greatexample of using humour to diffuse an issue.
Or it might be Tweeting from the wrong account, like this infamous anti-Obama tweet from KitchenAid, for which it later apologised
Sometimes, it’s nothing to do with communications, but it’s the fault of your product, my favourite being the new Apple maps which couldn’t find its own stores.Image from Anorak.co.uk
Image from Anorak.co.ukAnd although this picture is nothing to do withsocial media, I just love how far this storytravelled, even making the LondonUnderground tube noticeboards.
Or it might be the fault of a marketing ideathat’s just asking for ridicule. I’m not sure whatBIC was doing when it launched pens for girls –honestly, I’ve NO idea how women managed towrite before these came out – and no greatsurprise, it had a lot of flack on socialmedia, including Twitter and review sites.
I should probably say here that BIC claims itspink pens have been verysuccessful, particularly with American markets.Apart from people who watch Ellenpresumably – BIC’s PR team asked Ellen toreview the pens, which was a really bad idea –she ripped them apart.
But I wouldn’t really call these examples crises, as such, more a pain in theneck to deal with. Most of them won’t have any noticeable impact onsales, they’ll just see a few of the comms team working all weekend.For today’s purpose, when we talk about a social media crisis, we mean acrisis that’s happening in the real world, that’s playing out over socialmedia.The way this happens has changed out of all recognition in the last 10years. News organisations break stories on Twitter these days. Sometimesthat news is based on mis-information.
At the end of 2010, Qantas suffered engine failure on one of its Airbus A380 flights. Without going into the technical details, a piece of the engine broke off and fell onto an island in Indonesia. The first reports that came out identified it as wreckage from a crashed plane – and looking at this picture, you can see why – but it wasn’t true, the plane was still flying. The picture of the so called wreckage went up onto Twitter and news sites, was identified as the A380, and was reported on Reuters and CNBC.Photo credit: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-news/qantas-jet-engine-fails-witnesses-tell-of-hearing-explosion-20101104-17f49.html
The plane landed in Singapore, although not without drama, and Qantas put out a statement quickly saying all the passengers were safe. But even so, the story took its toll.“We first knew it was a problem when our share price started to collapse.And that was because these reports coming out of Twitter that werereported by one mainstream media outlet on the basis of the Twitter reportsthat the aircraft had crashed in Indonesia started obviously causing aproblem with the share price.” (Qantas CEO Alan Joyce)
You can see what the team was trying to do, re-directing queries to Qantas, but this might have been a worried relative of a passenger, finding out whether the plane had crashed or not. There’s no phoneIt must have been chaos at Qantas number, twitter handle or even an emailwhen this story landed, and its teams address here. There is, however, a helpful linkweren’t on top of it at first. Qantas to the Travel Insider magazine.Travel Insider is a Qantas travelmagazine run by an separate editorial Having said that, Qantas did a number ofteam, who should have had a clear things extremely well, including uploading aescalation policy for an event like very quick Q&A, including outline details ofthis, but clearly didn’t. You can see what had happened, a dedicated page on itshere the team’s response to someone site including links to the flights scheduler.trying to establish what hadhappened.
The pilot was absolutely amazing, and his calmness under pressure was widely reported in the post- incident analysis (which also mentioned the training that pilots get for exactly this kind of incident).The thing that really made the difference, though, isthe thing that you couldn’t control – the pilot’sresponse. Needless to say this was recorded anduploaded to YouTube and was the story thataccompanied the BBC piece.Watch the video on YouTube, as it’s a great exampleof how social media affects news. http://youtu.be/yK5SzV4OBF0
Luckily the passengers couldn’t see what was going onunder the wing, where it looked like this.
Until social media, when we knew there was an issue about to break, we generally hada good few hours to deal with it, while a journalist checked facts, found a suitableinterviewee, got hold of the company to respond and so on. In that time, it was oftenpossible to manage how the story broke, by providing alternative views, or dealing withdisgruntled customers before the press got hold of them (obviously I mean dealing withthem in the sense of making sure they were compensated and happy, rather thananything more sinister than that!).Social media’s completely changed all that.
This example is significantly less serious, but is a nice example of how social media spreads news. When British Gas put its prices up in the autumn, the Evening Standard tweeted the price rise. Paul Lewis, who’s a financial journalist – and any Radio 4 listeners will know him as a presenter of Moneybox – was the first to retweet the story, and within an hour, it was being tweeted by every major news source.Credit: http://conversation.cipr.co.uk/posts/andrew.smith/diary.of.a.breaking.news.story.on.twitter
Some called it a rumour circulating on Twitter, but that’s enough these days. Bymid-afternoon, the news outlets who’d reported the rumour were confirming itas fact, and by 4 o’clock ITV was asking consumers what they thought of the pricehike on Twitter.Social media in this case wasn’t just breaking news, it was creating news, andproviding a snapshot of consumer views to be used in the reporting of that news.Of course, in this case, the facts were true, and the chances are they would havebeen a fuss about it whether British Gas has managed the release of those factsor not. They chose not to in this case, saying they couldn’t comment on‘rumours’.
1 What issues are you likely to face?2 Which are avoidable, and which unavoidable?3 What action do you need to take to avoid a crisis?
The big question, though, is can you avoid a social media crisis?The answer is sometimes. I break crises broadly into two categories: those you can’tavoid, and those you can, if you take the appropriate action. Unavoidable crises are, ofcourse, the most serious– natural disasters, transport crashes, illness and so on - for themost part can’t be avoided. Qantas would fall into this category. You can always preparefor them, but you can’t control them.But if you plan for a crisis, by identifying the issues facing your company, you might findthat there are some situations you could avoid by taking the right business action. Crisisavoidance is very much a business – not just a communications – issue. I wish there was aPR magic wand to make the bad stuff go away, but sadly it doesn’t work like that.And sometimes you might just need to accept you’re going to have a hard time: staffup, and ride it out: it’s unlikely that British Gas would have reduced its prices in order toavoid a few headlines, for example.
I quite often get asked what this means forcompanies, and whether social media is a goodthing or a bad thing for corporatereputation, and I think the answer depends onhow businesses behave. I do think that itmeans companies have to be more honest andopen, and that ‘spin’ doesn’t have a place inthis new world. If you spin the truth, or try tocover something up, you’ll mostly get foundout.
The most important thing, though, is that to manage that reputation beforethe crisis hits. The reputation you have before you go into the crisis is theone that will see you through it.Whatever goodwill or badwill you have banked with customers, prospectsand media, will be what sees you through, so make sure it’s goodwill.