Social media has cemented its place in the communications mix faster than perhaps any other channel in history. They are integral to brand building, customer engagement, and even service delivery for the private and public sectors. There is little question of their strategic value or their impact.
I can’t imagine a communication or marketing plan written today that doesn’t include social. But can the same be said of our crisis plans?
I’ve dealt with many huge crises – including Boxing Day Tsunami, 7/7 and G4S at the Olympics – and have seen firsthand how this revolution in the media landscape has changed the way these events unfold. .
Social media is a game-changer in times of crisis like never before.
The inability to grasp a problem has never been more likely to leave an organization exposed. Every customer, spectator, passenger, employee or neighbor is now at the same time a journalist, cameraman, broadcaster and network.
Business intelligence firm Domo estimates that every minute Facebook users like more than four million messages and 350,000 tweets are sent.
In this breathtaking environment, your crisis can be at the doorstep and take place on the cyber road before you even have time to alert the CEO.
Now add to that picture that a significant proportion of this content will be user generated, not curated by responsible news organizations, checked for accuracy, or bound by reporting rules or guidelines.
It is the perfect breeding ground for an out of control crisis marked by speculation, rumor, disinformation and lies, in which your organization can be compromised, damaged and potentially destroyed.
The cumulative effect of this is a pace, scope and volume of information and opinions that many PRs will never have faced and do not know how to deal with.
Organizations may have developed their communications capacity for the digital age, but there’s a good chance the oft-overlooked crisis communications plan will be stuck in the analog era.
For some organizations, the risk goes even further, with lives potentially at stake, and the need to master communication becomes literally critical.
The government and the public sector have recognized the need to place social issues at the heart of crisis response and preparation.
The Metropolitan Police’s recent counterterrorism exercise, Strong Tower, simulated a marauding gun attack in the heart of London.
The Met has placed high-quality simulated social media platforms at the center of the exercise. Complex pressures have been created by providing information from the public, partners and the media.
The real-time environment engaged and informed senior decision making, just as it would in real life. He has transformed the way the country prepares for these crises.
Of course, we hope that this scenario never becomes real. But if it does, those responsible for managing it have an understanding of what’s to come and how to manage it.
That’s the serious side of social media when it can really play a role in saving lives and keeping people safe.
This is perhaps where they offer the most value in a day.
Lorraine Homer is Director of Nightingale Consultants