Social media: when is a crisis not a crisis?

Social media: when is a crisis not a crisis?

Yani Giazizoglou

Yani Giazizoglou

I’ve written before about the need for disciplined messaging and a coherent narrative in crisis communications. For me it’s one of the most interesting aspects of PR, so when the opportunity arose to attend a Social Media Week event all about ‘crisis comms’, I jumped at the chance. The speakers on the day were the usual great and good from the world of PR and social media, all with great insights and opinions on how best to prepare, react to and contain a crisis. We were entertained with tales of gaffes, cock-ups and spin – but one line really struck me: “it’s important to make sure the crisis actually is a crisis” – a sentiment I can’t help but agree with. In our age of hyper-connectivity, social media and 24 hour news, small comments can be blown out of all proportion and ripple through an organisation’s stakeholders and beyond.

[caption id="attachment_7181" align="alignleft" width="235"]Tucker's downfall: "nuke and rebuke" Tucker's downfall: "nuke and rebuke"[/caption]

Like the mad-house portrayed in political satire The Thick of It, comms professionals can and do overreact to what they perceive as a ‘crisis’; making a mountain out of what is actually a very small molehill. I’ll spare the blushes of the PRs who shared stories of overreactions at Social Media Week, but to illustrate my point I’ll borrow again from The Thick of It. In one of my favourite scenes, Malcolm Tucker (a fictional Downing Street Director of Communications, loosely based on Alastair Campbell) tells a civil servant to “nuke and rebuke” the BBC for some perceived slight. Overreaction leads in turn to a gaggle of journalists ‘doorstepping’ the (fictional) Department for Social Affairs and Citizenship and eventually to Tucker’s downfall in the final series when his role is scrutinised. This is a classic, if exaggerated, example of how people working in comms can sometimes create a crisis out of what is actually a small blip. As another delegate at Social Media Week said: it’s important to profile those creating negative ‘noise’ about your brand or organisation, it could just be a particular lobby group or sectional interest, for example.  If the problem-noise ‘infects’ elements of your consumer base, that’s when you’re in trouble.

The moral of this story for PRs is simple: when it comes to crises, be proportionate in your response.  Hysteria gets you nowhere.

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