Tipsheet: Crisis Communicator

Crisis Communicator

When someone sends a nastygram directly to you via email, it’s
easy to deal with them directly: there’s just one person. But in the Social
Media world, that nastygram gets broadcast everywhere. And when others start
repeating, retweeting, and adding to the message, the problem escalates further.

Many organizations – and many individuals – have jumped on the
Social Media bandwagon, but are woefully unprepared when something goes wrong.
Are you?

Pre-empt: If you know that there is a
problem, it is fairly certain that people will find out about it. By
announcing and addressing it beforehand, you appear pro-active and

Ignore: This is the strategy that most
organizations use, merely because they are ignorant of the conversations
currently underway. After you have a monitoring process in place, then you can
make an appropriate decision to ignore. The rationale for ignoring an issue is
simple: why pour fuel on the fire? The troublemaker is likely hoping to make
your response as much "the story" as the original issue.

Engage: In this strategy, you seek to open
the conversation with the troublemaker and the wider social media community.
While you may not be empowered to fix the situation, you may be able to
demonstrate reasonableness, compassion, and understanding. Done properly, you
will not only diffuse the situation, but also learn something important that
can be fed back into your organization’s product development or service
delivery processes.

Fight: Fighting can happen through aggressive
engagement (the "flame war"), or it can happen through legal
channels (eg threats), or it can happen by invoking the Social Media venue’s
terms of service. The problem with the Fight strategy is that your Fight can
quickly become the story, particularly if it fits the David and Goliath
"insensitive big corporation" narrative. We recommend that this
strategy only be used once the troublemaker crosses a line (eg libel), or
other crisis techniques have proven unsatisfactory.

Solicit Support: You don’t need to do anything alone! Whenever a contentious issue arises, reach out to your supporters: generically through a tool such as Twitter, or directly by picking up the phone/writing an email. Your goal with this strategy is to ask your engaged community to advocate on your behalf. A third party endorsement (or rebuttal) is more powerful than anything that you can say yourself.

Of course, there are a number of other issues, including
choosing a spokesperson, coordination with off-web messaging, etc, but these
overall crisis strategies are a great way to frame your response.

This week’s action plan: While there may not be
a crisis this week, becoming a crisis communicator happens well before the
problem starts. In addition to the above five strategies, here is a sixth: create a crisis plan, so that when it eventually hits, you ‘ll be ready.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to
to register.

Randall Craig

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Randall Craig has founded several successful start-ups, held a long-time position at a “big-four” consulting firm, and was an executive at an American public company. He currently serves as the 108 ideaspace CEO and chief strategist. Randall has been advising on digital strategy since 1994: he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail’s GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations.

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