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Crisis Management and Social Media

By Dominic Carter

Any of us who experienced the events of March 11, 2011 and their aftermath will understand just how intrinsic social media platforms have become to the way we gather information and communicate with the world.

On that day the established telecommunications networks were completely overwhelmed. However, those with access to an Internet connection were able to use social media playforms to get messages out to family, friends, and loved ones.

Further, as events unfolded, Japanese and foreigners found that they were using these platforms as aggregators to get up-to-the-minute news, information, and commentary from official and unofficial sources. Then bad turned to worse, and we all became aware of the existence of a nuclear power station called Fukushima.

We found that, in a crisis, official information sources can present a delayed, incomplete, or even misleading story, Faced with conflicting information about the nuclear disaster and the attendant health consequences, Japanese have learned to rely on a triangulation of official and unofficial sources. Social media is a key facilitator of this.

Against a background of diminished trust in society and hoards of super-empowered net-influencers, those tasked with the stewardship of brands face a hair-trigger environment. This is especially so in times of crisis, where events are fluid and it is by no means assured that the company can control the conversation.

Marc Wesseling of Press Army K.K., a Tokyo-based social media monitoring company, feels it is imperative that marketers realize that working under a whole new paradigm. “We are working under a drastically changed crisis management landscape. The days that governments and companies could control communication in a crisis are over.” Wesseling feels that companies should view the monitoring of social media as an intrinsic part of their management processes.”

With multitude of instant journalists out there, one factor that Wesseling views as critically important is the identification of the sources of opinion in social media. “One key reason why you should monitor social media is to get to know the key influencers. These days it is required to take action within hours and not days. When information is not contained and acted upon quickly, it can spiral out of control!”

Indeed, given the anarchic nature of social media, its possible for crises to develop in ways they never would have in the past because people have the ability turn their beef with your brand into a viral web sensation or — even worse- a feeding-frenzy that quickly escalates.

Given this its hard to use social media effectively in a crisis if you don’t engage users in ordinary times. As trust and familiarity often go hand in hand, then the more familiar social media users are with brands, and the more familiar brands are with social media users, the lower the potential for misinformation and misunderstanding.

Brands are well advised to establish an online dialogue as a matter of course — not just in a crisis. Every brand and every industry is different and require a different strategy. Here are listed some broad questions that are universally relevant:

· Are you systematically monitoring what is said about your brand in blogs and social media platforms?

· Who is official empowered to respond and represent your brand in social media?

· Is it appropriate to outsource your representation in social media, or should this be kept in-house.

· Do the people representing your brand have the knowledge and authority to meaningfully engage your publics in a conversation (often in real time)?

The word “conversation” is critical, because the nature of social media is such that it allows users to take your broadcast and reply or re-broadcast, sometimes adding a skepticism or sarcasm that disempowers your authority over the message. However, conversation with a public does not always mean engaging with particular individuals, where one can get bogged down in ultimately unhelpful tit-for-tat exchanges.

Respect for your publics is crucial. Listening is a must. Once you have understood the nature and source of your crisis, being succinct and sticking to the facts is the best response. There are a range of means at your disposal to allow you to communicate facts as they come to hand and your response to them. These will be different based on the situation, but could involve an interlinked network of Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and special crisis-related web domains.

Whatever the technology of engagement, success in a crisis rests upon the decision to have an authentic dialogue with your publics. To the extent that social media allow you to demonstrate that you are listening and respecting the valid concerns of people during a crisis, they will be of enormous value.

20th February 2012

CarterJMRN is a strategic market research agency that has been helping clients with consumers and businesses in Japan and beyond since 1989.

We believe that, although the terrain you face in building a successful marketing strategy and activation path sometimes seems obscure, the path to success is knowable and that the consumer is the guide who will show you the way.

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