How Do You Handle a Social Media Crisis?

A rant from an angry customer or a weird tweet from a CEO can quickly become a PR nightmare if it’s not handled correctly. At Expion‘s Racing Ahead 2012 social business summit, social media experts discussed worst-case scenarios and how to prevent them.

Altimeter‘s Jeremiah Owyang said that problems tend to erupt on Saturdays, when people are home for the weekend and have nothing better to do. Although the drama usually lasts only a day or two before trailing off, it sure doesn’t feel that way to the people who are stuck cleaning up the mess. “Like a car crash,” he said, “time slows down.”

In a morning keynote, Owyang (pictured right) presented some key findings from his research report, ”Social Business Readiness: How Advanced Companies Prepare Internally,” which was based on input from 140 social media program managers at companies with more than 1,000 employees.

Most people seemed to feel that social media crises were on the rise. Although some situations were doomed from the start, Altimeter’s research showed that 76 percent of the social media disasters the companies reported could have been avoided if the companies had been better prepared.

The biggest problem, participants said, was a lack of infrastructure. The solution? Here were the best options:

  • Fix Internal Processes - 59%
  • Empower Crowd to Respond to Each Other – 44%
  • Streamline with New Technologies – 33%
  • Hire More Staff – 29%
  • Outsource to Agencies – 15%
  • Respond to Fewer Conversations – 7%

Because many Facebook pages are a hybrid of personal and corporate accounts, it’s hard to tell “who owns what,” said Owyang. It’s important to take inventory of every page that your company owns and to be mindful of pages that may have been set up by fans or other third parties.

In today’s market, “every company is a media company,” said Owyang. Corporations in all fields now have professionals with titles like “content strategist” or ”editor-in-chief” who unify the company’s voice across multiple channels.

In general, companies should have a governing body that authorizes other departments or branch locations to have their own pages –  a sort of “hub and spoke” model. The average social media team, the study found, has 11 employees, consisting of corporate social strategists (1 – 2), social media managers (2), community managers (3), social analysts (1), web developers (1 – 2), education managers (0 – 1), and business unit liaisons (1 – 2).

These people can divide up what Owyang said will become the most important tasks in social media management: intense response, social broadcasting, platform campaign marketing, distributed brand response, and tailored service and support.

In an afternoon panel, Warner Bros. direct to consumer marketing VP Michele Edelman described a situation far worse than an irate customer. On July 20, a gunman disguised as the Joker opened fire on unsuspecting moviegoers at a midnight screening of Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, CO, killing 12 people and wounding numerous others.

Although the social web erupted with comments and photos in response to the tragedy, the studio pulled back, allowing local authorities and news reporters who had rushed to the scene to do their jobs.  ”‘Dark Knight’ wasn’t a [social media] crisis,” Edelman said. “It was just a crisis.”

But she was proud of how her company handled the public. When director Christopher Nolan issued a statement, he focused his heartfelt message on the victims and their families, which Warner Bros. posted on the Dark Knight Rises Facebook page and other web properties to share with concerned fans. Remembered Edelman, “People said it made them cry.”

Event Photo by SocialTimes. Stock Images by Victor Correia and marekuliasz via Shutterstock.

 

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