By: Charissa Corlies (@CharissaCo), Jon Fisher (@jonnfisher) and Mahina Husain (@hiinabebs)
In class on Wednesday February 8th, students prepared to learn about social media crisis management and how to – and not to – prepare, respond and manage #Scandals. Right off the bat, students were presented with the following scenario. You are the PR person at a non-profit focused around kids and are having a fundraiser at a winery. A major donor is attending and has a well known drinking problem. After the fundraiser, your donor gets in a car accident killing a family and comes out unharmed. You learn about this at 6 a.m. when a reporter from the local news calls for a comment. Other attendees of your fundraiser posted on social media multiple videos of this donor consuming large amounts of alcohol. What do you do? Chaos and confusion ensued for the next five or so minutes while the class tried to think of a plan of action. Answers were given ranging from asking employees to erase the social media content, issuing a formal apology, and give the donation to the victim’s family. However, the biggest revelation for our class from this exercise was how challenging it is to come up with a plan for crisis management in business, especially when social media is involved.
That leads us to the question: what is a crisis? A crisis is “an event that if allowed to escalate can disrupt an organization’s normal operations, jeopardize its reputation, and damage its bottom line” (Guth and Marsh, 2003). When involved, social media is what fans the flames and intensifies the repercussions by the sheer number of people that are reached. So, how do should companies handle a situation like this?
- Preparation is key. Find your vulnerabilities. Every company, person or organization has vulnerabilities, the trick is to understand where you are at risk and make sure you aren’t exposed. Going back to the winery example, if an employee had pointed out that having a donor with a known alcohol problem at a fundraiser involving wine wasn’t a good idea then the crisis may have been diverted.
- Be proactive not reactive. The best way to solve a crisis is to stop it from happening in the first place. If you know your vulnerabilities then you can put measures in place to make sure a crisis doesn’t happen. Maybe this means changing your venue or having a drink limit on your fundraiser guests. If the crisis is avoidable then as a PR team you should do everything in your power to make sure it doesn’t happen.
- Tell it first. Tell it fast. Tell them what you’re going to do about it. We’ve all heard the “no comment” line before. It’s overused and not always the right move. “No comment” can also be seen as “I’m guilty and I haven’t prepared an excuse yet”. The best move is to be honest. Maybe your company is guilty, let the world know. Maybe it’s not guilty, don’t place the blame but be honest about what facts you have. Make a statement quickly, timing is everything in crisis management. Finally, have a plan in place. The public wants to know what is going to be done to solve this crisis, so tell them.
- Be sincere and not scripted. Think of a time when you watched a CEO or politician make an apology and you thought to yourself, “wow they don’t mean a single word of that”. Don’t make that mistake. If you’re going to apologize be sincere. Sometimes PR professionals have to write a statement for the CEO make sure it sounds like the way they speak, have them read it over and get comfortable with it. In class we watched a video of the Dominos CEO issuing an apology, it was obviously scripted and the reactions were just like this tweet.
On the day, our class took the proactive approach and generated 133 tweets with a reach of 16,217. The tweets consisted of 93 original tweets, 26 @message tweets, and 14 retweets. In total, 27 class members contributed which resulted in 89,686 timeline deliveries. Our 25 memes had the Twitter feed on fire and even drew the response of @lululemon. Here were the standouts from the day:
Most active: @hinabebs
Most mentions: @kmatthews
Most retweets: @hinabebs, @erinopetit
Funniest meme: @seanthornberry
On top of all this, the best moment of the day came from @oliviadeterman, who had previously the victim of cyberbullying after going 0 for 2 on movie references involving Wayne’s World and the infamous Mrs. Doubtfire. The day before class, @kmatthews sent out a warning that there would be “a mid-1990s pop culture movie reference in tomorrow’s lecture”. @oliviadeterman confidently responded to “BRING IT ON” and the showdown didn’t disappoint. Early into the lecture, an image of Jim Carrey sitting in a blue 1970 Monte Carlo came onto the screen and @oliviadeterman was once again asked what movie this was from. Tension then built up in the room in the ensuing moments. After some thought, she correctly answered Ace Ventura! In the words of @erinopetit, #crisisaverted