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Social media crisis prevention and management: It's about culture, not guidelines!

14th Jun 2012
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Matt Rebeiro examines social media guidelines and why many are not effectively protecting organisations.

We have all heard our fair share of social media based PR disaster stories. On the face of it, these “disasters” usually originate from one of three sources:
  1. Brand inactivity in the face of a crisis, such as Eurostar fell foul of this when they failed to respond quickly enough to customers during major delays.
  2. Brand social media activity that is poorly received, for example when McDonald’s invited customers to share their #McDStories only for the hashtag to take on an altogether more negative life of its own.
  3. Poorly judged, or out rightly moronic, employee actions, such as when two Dominos employees took to YouTube to show themselves doing something unsavoury with a Pizza.
However, these examples and many more like them are often merely symptoms of a wider issue. Indeed, the cause of all social media PR disasters is culture. Failure to develop the right culture when it comes to social media can have serious repercussions for an organisation.
Culture goes beyond merely having a social media strategy and a set of employee rules. Strategy documents and lists of rules get sent around, scanned by their recipients and summarily filed and then rarely referred to again.
Culture involves employees – and as a result the organisations they work for – understanding what social media is, how it affects each and every employee and how they can use it to the mutual benefit of themselves and the organisation as a whole.
It was such a culture that helped BA deal with both the infamous Ash Cloud and cabin crew strikes of 2010. Having an executive team that understood social media and who were happy to appear in regular YouTube video updates helped to diffuse a tense and frustrating time for travellers.
Similarly, FedEx’s ability to quickly and effectively deal with a rogue employee caught throwing valuable goods over a client’s gates demonstrated an organisation with a culture that ‘got’ social media. This was especially evident in the number of FedEx employees who responded personally to the issue, demonstrating a genuine togetherness.
A culture of social media understanding
A culture of understanding, as opposed to fear or ignorance, in social media can help to limit the chances that an organisation, or its employees, are the architects of their own social media crisis. The right culture is also crucial to ensuring the organisation can mobilise and respond more quickly and flexibly when a reputational issue does arise.
Ensuring your employee social media guidelines are more than a list of ‘don’ts’ is the first thing an organisation can do to ensure its employees aren’t scared of using social media.
Organisations must ensure they strike the right balance between prescriptively forbidding certain actions and empowering employees to proactively engage in positive actions. Equally important is communicating to the workforce the ways in which their responsible use of social media is good for both their career and the organisation’s wellbeing.
Indeed, effectively communicating the mutual benefit for employees and the organisation of using social media can help to embed a proactive, positive culture around social media that can be invaluable in preventing and managing crises. 
All too often organisations take the easy option, create a set of employee guidelines, create a strategy for dealing with crises and then feel satisfied that they’ve ticked the right boxes. But this is merely to pay lip service to the issue. To ensure your organisation is properly armed to prevent and manage crises in social media, you need to cultivate a culture of social media understanding. 
Matt Rebeiro is innovation manager at social media consultants RMM London.

Replies (3)

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By Paul Wiscombe
14th Jun 2012 12:16

Matt raises some really good and valid points. However, the bit that practically every company ignores time and time and time again, which if instilled into every member of staff from Chairperson down would minimise these sorts of incidents even happening in the first place, is a culture of great customer service. If we all took responsibility for doing this, and I mean every person in every organisation (and even every parent and teacher) these issues would hardly ever arise in the first place. And we wouldn't all need to pour as much time and resorces into social media activities (my apologies to all those making a living out of the social media industry!). Someone with a bit of business nous gave us all a clue about this way, way back but we still ignore their advice. She said 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you', i.e. if you deal out [***] be prepared to get [***] back. If companies get a pile of grief for ignoring this advice, they have only themselves to pat on back. Mind you, it does provide great entertainment for the rest of us!

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By User deleted
18th Jun 2012 11:30

Paul I completely agree with what you say about customer service. Often I see that whilst complaints are a key moment of truth for customers, and a great opportunity to deliver excellent customer service, this opportunity goes begging as companies focus on compliance or cost reduction. Not to mention that they fail to identify or address root causes and affect their change roadmap accordingly.

I don't think this sits at odds with companies putting resource in to social media though. Excellent customer service can and does result in increased customer advocacy and loyalty - both things that social media can help to facilitate and capitalise on. Not to mention that social data can be a great input in to root cause analysis of underlying customer service issues - one gets a much more raw, unfiltered and i'd argue honest response to poor customer service on Twitter (for example) than I see in customer panels where they're trying to recall how they felt months previously.

Of course where social media is a waste – and I suspect what you’re getting at – is where organisations plough money in to a Facebook Page or Twitter Feed and don’t deal with customer service. I’m reminded of a brand Facebook page (I won’t name the brand) where they’d shared a piece of video content and asked for people’ reactions. The only response it received was someone bemoaning that fact that the brand in questions should spend less time making videos, and more time dealing with their ‘shoddy customer service’!

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