As a dude who’s been consulting with companies on the Web since the early ’90s, I always think I’ve seen it all. And then, out of nowhere, I see some brands pull bonehead moves, like publicly getting pissed at their customers or using a terrorist bombing as a platform to market oneself, that leaves you wondering if they’re on a corporate bender.
Most of these events are considered “social media crises” in the trade. They’re not. They’re typically very public displays of individuals or organizations still believing that they can put genies back in bottles or cats back in bags. Or just being plain old stupid.
So, how do we create a framework to avoid both these self-created crises or ones that occur to us because someone—oh, let’s say Edward Snowden—decides to blow the whistle on us?
Above All, Don’t Be Stupid
Stupidity knows no job description. Whether it’s the junior copywriter using atrocious grammar or the CEO using the Arab Spring to sell shoes, one’s ability to display a lack of intellectual rigor is a mad equalizer. Before you push “send,” think. Most self-made crises are simply the effect of someone not taking a breather or asking for a second opinion.
Have An Organizational Plan
OK. I’ve just jumped from the most simple of rectifying options—“don’t be stupid”—to one of the most difficult: Make social media an enterprise priority. I’m not sure how many PR crises it will take, but eventually all companies will realize that the social Web is the most connected and potent environment for consumer engagement, and as such, many people throughout the organization will need to add social communications to their job descriptions. Doing so will not be an option. More often than not, a potential crisis can be averted if an organization can simply empower the person who has the answer to the public inquiry to make a rapid, professional, and informed response. Too often, these responses come in the form of the digital press release or a watered-down, dare I say dismissive, missive from a person so far removed from the answer that the public only gets fueled in their frustration and disgust.
Take A Good Hard Look At Your Business And Business Partners
Many corners of the world’s stage are being seriously disrupted by the equalization of communications that social media allows. From the fall of governments to multi-national companies, rogue but empowered whistleblowers are calling it like they see it. Let’s not use this space here to argue about the accuracy of individual cases. Rather, let’s look at what’s happening and examine our own possible “truthiness” to our claims. Are we as green as we say we are? Do we have supply chain members who have less than stellar workplace records? Are our materials safe? In the very near future, it is going to be a very senior level position within organizations that get at the cold hard truth of our business practices, then determine how risky some of these sketchy claims and relationships are to our business. Assume each and every shortfall could become public knowledge in just a 140-character tweet. Assume a horrendous work environment of one of your suppliers is just one YouTube video upload away.
I’ve written about this before, but we are in the middle of some very awkward growing pains. We’re in between a long-standing era where companies had greater control over media and the stories that appeared within and, now, where the roles have truly reversed. Unfortunately, most companies still operate as though they’re totally in control of their brands and messaging. They aren’t. It’s just that simple. Dramatically changing your culture and processes to fit the needs of today’s consumer is really the only premise from which to begin your own internal business journey.
Equally important to remember is that, in the long term, a more honest, transparent marketplace is good for business, good for the economy, and good for the public and public trust.