Tag Archives: social media in crisis communication

Does using Facebook help in a crisis? New study says “yes”

This study was presented at a communications conference in London and purports to demonstrate that Facebook is an effective tool in crisis communications.

I haven’t looked at the study, itself, only Bulldog Reporter’s story on it, but my reaction was first, “well, duh,” and second, was it really Facebook? Now I completely support the use of Facebook in a crisis. Coca Cola, for example, has 72 million likes on its Facebook page with over 1 million talking about it. Other brands sport similar astounding numbers. So, if Coke is in a crisis, why wouldn’t they be talking to those people who have already connected with them in this way?

But, my question is the study and the conclusion they come to. The study involved created two fake universities, showing students news stories about the crisis these universities were in and then judging student reaction. Then the researchers showed the students fake Facebook posts from the fake universities “which gave additional information and messages directly from the universities.”

So, here is there conclusion:

“This study shows that Facebook can be a valuable tool for public relations professionals when working to solve or lessen the severity of a crisis. Because Facebook is very personal for its users, well-thought-out crisis management messages can be effective at reaching users on a personal level, which is a powerful way to persuade people to a cause.”

Seems to me, this study simply shows that when you provide people with direct messages in a personal style about the crisis they are in, they are going to react more positively to the crisis than simply reading about it in a news story. If they did a realistic job of doing a news story about a crisis, it will likely be twinged toward blame, outrage or questions about the actions of leaders–or else it wouldn’t be very realistic. So, of course the Facebook posts are going to present the crisis from the universities perspective. This study doesn’t seem to show much about Facebook, but it does show a lot about direct, personal interaction with your audience. They seem to be confusing message with medium. Certainly they are right that Facebook is an appropriate medium for communicating with college students, and for many other (but not all audiences). Email would do much the same. Even good posts on a university web site would do much the same. Blogs, interactive forums, text messages, Twitter–all would do well when used, as in this study, to provide more in-depth information directly and personally to audiences.

There’s more. The Facebook posts in this study were apparently done in narrative style. The conclusion: “This indicates that the effect of narrative tone in organizational statements during crises increases perceived conversational human voice, which represents a high level of engagement and best communicates trust, satisfaction, and commitment to the audience…”  Again, couldn’t agree more. Facebook lends itself to this approach. But it is the approach that is effective, not necessarily the medium. Emails, letters, web posts, tweets–all those are more effective when presented in a human voice vs a stuffy corporate one. This is about how you write, not the medium used.

The headline should be: “Direct messages sent in a human voice that provide in-depth information are effective in a crisis.” And, if Facebook is important to your audience, use it. But whatever channel you use, do the above.

Are we losing perspective on reputation crises?

I receive several email newsletters on public relations issues and business crises are among the favorite topics. Pitches for blog posts from authors or PR pundits frequently focus on the reputation crisis of the day. Commenting and reporting on reputation crises is getting to be like the news business itself–it’s all about immediacy, and if it isn’t lurid enough, or big enough, or juicy enough, we tend to try to make it that way. I’m writing as a crisis comms pundit myself, so this is a big of navel gazing.

Bank of America’s debit card fee kerfluffle. Netflix and their ill-fated business model change and Qwikster division. RIM and their outage problems–did they apologize quickly and effectively enough. News articles talk about drop in share price because of the Blackberry outage such as the LA Times report that share price of RIM dropped 1.1%. Not sure with the volatility of the market that is such a big deal.

What I’m wondering about is are we making too big a deal out of these crises? No doubt the Internet and social media have created greatly increased crisis risk, its increased the speed with which crises evolve, and with the crowd or mob-effect can explode relatively small issues into huge ones almost instantaneously.

Let’s look at some of the ones in the recent past–Dominos and their dumb employees YouTube stunt. JetBlue and its sitting on the runway problems. Even Toyota with the massive recalls and safety issues. Did the big listeria problem keep you from buying cantaloupes? I’m just raising the question here, but are crises like this just becoming commonplace and so losing their impact? Are we becoming inoculated to reputation damage by over exposure? Is it possible that one of the effects of social media on reputations is to increase reputation resilience by making the many crises that seem to pop up over time less significant? Is Bank of America really harmed by all the anger and consumer threats about their debit card fees?

Clearly, the PR profession and particularly those like yours truly who are in the crisis communication business want to think that all these are really big deals. And if the impact of these random thoughts is to take pressure off crisis preparation, then I am doing a huge disservice to all the companies and organizations who are woefully unprepared. But I am wondering if we need to think about crises a little differently.

I remember talking with someone who worked in the press office of President Bush Senior. He said every day was a crisis. That certainly is the case in high profile offices like the president or mayor’s of major cities. Crises in the sense of high public interest, media activity, lots of conversation, potential risk of making the wrong moves–is commonplace in certain offices. And that may very well be what is happening in the social media world. Almost everyday can be a crisis–some far more significant than others. I suspect if you work for a major brand and you are doing your social media monitoring, you are dealing with a dozen minor crises right now, or ones that could erupt into something more major. Is it a crisis if it is a daily occurrence?

I wrote some time ago that crisis communication may be dead. I guess I’m coming back to that theme from a different angle. I said then that if you have an on-going conversation with your key stakeholders, with those people who really matter for your future, then crisis communication is just intensifying that conversation. I really think this is the new world of crisis communication–but only for those who are engaged in on-going conversation.

That seems to me to be the crucial difference. Crisis communication in the older and now increasingly outdated sense is when you need to rely on traditional media to address the concerns and communicate with the people that matter. The new crisis communication to a large degree can  afford to ignore the traditional media essentially entirely because you are already talking directly and engaging directly those people who matter most. If things go wrong, you listen, you respond, you explain, you clarify, you correct the wrong information and you carry on the conversation.