Has social media changed strategic-level crisis response? Part Two

By Dominic Cockram 

Part 2 – Yes

After reading Sarah’s response to this question earlier this week, I have to disagree with her conclusions. I think that social media has changed many aspects of a strategic-level response.  However, there are many layers of complexity to this and it is never as straightforward as it seems.

Firstly, it depends on your brand and business.  If you are in retail and fashion then there is a huge shift in the way the strategic team now responds when driven by a social media storm.  Firstly they feel they now need to get decisions out there quickly and show action taking place, they are now listening to what they hear (or they should be) from their detractors and their supporters and using that information to drive and inform their decisions in many cases.  For them, crisis response has undergone a significant change as a direct consequence of social media.

The actual decisions being made should not change since the right one should remain the same, whatever is being said.  However, even the technically correct decision may, under some circumstances, be influenced by the “noise” being generated by social media.  For example, a decision to give recompense may be made, for example, much more readily if public support is being shown in that direction despite the fact that, technically, it may not have been the original decision.  Pragmatism may win the day.

Is Sarah saying that the strategic team should not “listen to the mood of the people”?  Naturally this is not right for the leaders of any organisation therefore social media is giving them a new input to consider and evaluate – and ignore at their peril!

Does it change the decisions? Who can say – but evidence is certainly beginning to suggest it is a very strong influence indeed for those organisations who are mature and confident users of such channels. Indeed, it is increasingly difficult to imagine anyone who could afford to ignore what is being said online when facing a crisis.  Even those who have no social media profile during business as usual – those who consider themselves beyond the horizon of Twitter et al – will be falling into line soon, even if only so that they can hear the voices but not engage.

In some ways it is all about perception.  Social media now gives us an insight into the perception of those “out there” and how they perceive our actions.  Thus, a response may elicit a storm of outrage in social media which, even though purely based on perception, has the potential for deepening the crisis or even generating another one, and this can cause a reaction at the most senior level if they see the corporate reputation crashing around them.

If social media can cause a reaction then it is changing the response.

I would agree with Sarah that the basic rules and tenets of crisis management still apply, but the response has changed to encompass social media for those who utilise it. Whether this becomes a war or another method of stakeholder engagement depends upon the success of an organisation’s strategy. However, there are many, many organisations who have yet to develop a strategy for “this thing called Twitter”!

About Dominic Cockram

Founder and MD of Steelhenge. Pioneer of simulation exercises with over 20 years experience in business continuity and crisis management. Dominic is an experienced speaker determined to make the world a more resilient place.

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