Exchange: Coping with social media crises

Our latest Exchange debate explored how communicators cope with social media crises.

In today's always on, always connected world, people more than ever are taking to social media to discuss brands. This morning's Exchange at Shoreditch House tackled an increasingly relevant question for communicators to grapple with - how to cope with social media crises?

Today's panel included Mark Flanagan, Partner at Portland Communications, Nicola Green, Head of Communications and Reputation, Telfonica UK, Phil Szomszor, Head of Digital at Firefly Communications and Director of Communications, London Fire Brigade, Richard Stokoe. The debate was chaired by Editor of CorpComms magazine, Helen Dunne.

The lively debate started with advice from the panel taken from their own experiences of handling recent social media crises. The overriding message was that once you have made the judgement call to respond to a crisis, adopting a human and consistent tone through your messages is key. It was warned that you should never let the media write your narrative for you once they have picked up on the story and that keeping your customers informed by regularly engaging with them and circulating your own content online is the best way to prevent this.

It was also suggested that brand likability can help when dealing with crises. If you are widely liked it is far easier to win people back around so it's essential to work to maintain this likability. It was acknowledged that this can be difficult to achieve within some sectors, for example banking, where establishing likability could potentially be a slow process.

The discussion then moved onto the extent to which social media crises actually exists and how far you can prepare for one. One panel member argued that although social media allows topics to spread and become mainstream more quickly, it's still possible to prepare as you would for any other crisis. If you prepare for every eventuality you can be ready for anything. Social media monitoring was also noted as being very valuable in crisis preparation as the data provided can allow you to predict the sort of issues you may come across. On the whole, the panel agreed that a crisis should never arise as there should always be plans put in place to fall back on.

The panel then touched on the use of social media platforms by senior executives. It was agreed that the extent at which execs buy into social media can have a huge impact and that it's essential for them to understand the importance of customer experience on reputation. The difficulty in striking the right balance in terms of how much time they should devote to social media was then considered, with the panel using David Cameron, who recently signed up to Twitter, as an example of how difficult it can be to manage volume and remain authentic.

Questions from the floor included; Should the public sector approach differ to the private sector? How do you deal with the vast quantities of false information that circulates online during crises? And should employees be banned from using social media? This last point sparked a great deal of interest with the panel agreeing that a new challenge will be to turn staff from social media threats to brand ambassadors, through training and sharing knowledge.

 You can read the full write up in the next edition of CorpComms Magazine.

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Claire Melly
Head of Marketing, UK & Ireland

Call me +44 (0)20 3130 7424