Handling social media in a PR crisis: Who wants a trial by Twitter?

Handling social media in a PR crisis: Who wants a trial by Twitter?

Charlotte Stoel

Charlotte Stoel

We all know that a rumour, speculation, allegation or a blatant lie can be half way around the world before truth has got its shoes on, and sadly we also know that mud sticks.

Gone are the days when brands had the luxury of time to consider a response to a crisis – social media allows for huge and fast amplification of any reputation threat, with citizen journalism adding fuel to the fire.

Last year, a law firm interviewed PR professionals who, between them, had handled over 2,000 crises. More than 25% spread internationally within one hour and 75% spread internationally within 24hours. Six out of 10 crises had been brewing for days, if not months, and it took an average of 21 hours for companies to respond, leaving them open to a ‘trial by Twitter’.

More than four in ten of those organisations had no crisis plans in place.

With this in mind, on 11th March 2014, Firefly hosted a PR crisis event using an interactive social media simulator, so that attendees could experience what it would be like to be in the thick of an online crisis.

It served as a good reminder of the importance of preparation when having to deal with a crisis,  enabling you to react quickly and attempt to minimise the damage.

Before the simulation started, the room heard from Firefly’s founder and CEO, Claire Walker, who set out her four top tips of how you might pre-empt a social media nightmare.

1. Be prepared:

You must think the unthinkable, imagine the worst, and plan for how you would respond over Facebook, Twitter etc which is not just pumping out a media statement to all.

Proactively monitor your brand using social media monitoring tools. Depending on the type of business you work in, these should certainly run beyond office hours, and in some cases 24/7.

2. Create a goodwill bank:

You cannot establish a reputation during a crisis, although if handled well, you may enhance it.  Build a positive balance of goodwill through your social media feeds and PR activities and this will support you. Pay attention and constantly build up your friends, fans and followers. If no-one knows you’re there, it’ll seem suspicious if you burst into action on your social media feeds mid crisis.

3. Seek independent substantiation:

Where possible, and as frequently as possible, refer to and use independent research or information from trusted sources to back up your arguments. Don’t just rely on your own data and opinions that could be dismissed as spin. The internet can be a great source of misinformation; you need to fight back with facts, and perhaps a bit of wit and self deprecation.

4. Know your audiences and channels:

Make sure you have identified the right channels for your audiences, use them regularly and become familiar with them so you are not experimenting during a crisis.

Ensure that your team is fully trained for every channel and all eventualities to ensure you can prevent an issue from becoming a crisis at best, or minimise a crisis at worst.

At our event, Magnus Boyd, from law firm Hill Dickinson, asked us to question the allegations. With much of the information coming from citizen journalism, i.e. untrained journalists using unchecked sources, it’s important to challenge claims before responding.

Furthermore, Magnus highlighted that news is no longer tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. Blogs and news sites lengthen stories and Google makes them easily searchable. The best form of crisis management is anticipation and preparation, which includes correcting inaccuracies living on the web before they inevitably get into the wrong hands.

Magnus made the valid point that social media may fuel a crisis, but it also provides brands with a way to handle the crisis, and even turn it to your advantage.

That can only happen if, as Claire and Magnus state, you’re fully prepared.

Practicing is also an important element and we’d like to thank Tamara Littleton from eModeration, who ran the simulation. At the event, attendees were able to try different techniques to respond to the ‘angry public’ on social media channels (and see how the public would react); experience how social media influences news channels, blogs and forums; and discuss different kinds of crisis responses in small groups.

Here are some photos of the teams in action:


Firefly crisis comms event


Firefly crisis commes event 2


If you’re interested in hearing more about how Firefly can help you anticipate, prepare for and manage a crisis, please visit - http://fireflycomms-com.stackstaging.com/reputation-crisis-management – or contact hello@fireflycomms.com, or call us on +44 (0)203 170 8008.

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