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Identity crisis

They say that life is more complex with the advent of social media. This is especially true for companies who previously, merely had to focus on being innovative to be viewed as competitive and concepts such as relationships and communities were viewed as foreign. Today, however, this has completely changed.
Nowadays, organisations not only have to be innovative and creative, but they need to understand the regulatory, legal and financial issues of doing business locally and abroad. They also need to understand the implications of concepts like 'relationships' and 'communities' and what this means for their staff and their customers - all while 'looking' genuine around this. This is a changing world.

In fact, so much has been written about this change - which has been broadly termed, social media - as well it should be, as this platform has massive implications for how companies interact with their audience - and one of these implications is how they manage a crisis online.

© Alex -

Shared values

While many are quick to jump on the social media train, one of the aspects that seem to make most companies hesitant is the inherent social nature of the Internet and all its different platforms. People socialise on the Internet and this means that what they tend to read, respond to or post, is based on creating human connections or communities - ones with shared values. So actually the age old adage of 'it's not what you know, but who you know' seems to hold very true on social media.

This means that should your company experience a crisis that is taken online, if you have not taken the time to understand and engage communities previously, you are going to have a much harder road ahead of you 'managing' the crisis - harder, but not impossible.

One thing to remember is that given the amount of information online, there is an incredible amount of clutter, even during a crisis, so you need to be able to sort through this and determine quickly what is relevant and what can be ignored.

However, the rule during any type of crisis, whether it's online or not, is be first.

Be the first to tell staff, shareholders and the market - get your view out there and ensure you communicate well and often. During any negative story or company brand crisis, most often, all the stakeholders or community want is information, but they want it done with some degree of integrity and honesty - this does not change whether the crisis takes form on or offline.

Be prepared

However, the difference that now exists is the speed of response, as you can no longer wait a couple of days to issue a statement or respond to queries, while the CEO approves material. You need to engage and disseminate information immediately, which means you cannot wait for a crisis to hit to 'manage' it - but you really have to be 'pre'-prepared.

Sure, it's difficult to pre-prepare what type of crisis could impact a company, but you can certainly pre-plan your response team. Those are the people that need to come together quickly to make decisions and disseminate information without too much 'red tape'. This will also mean ensuring you have some executive decision makers in this team - as you want to be able to get a response out to staff and stakeholders quickly - to be the first to respond.

You can also prepare in terms of how you proactively monitor what is being said online - ensuring you have set up the right systems for your team to gain real time insight into what is being said about your brand online - and that you can work through the clutter to ascertain what information you need to use or act on, and from there, use it to make informed business decisions.

Necessary steps

A further consideration, beyond the traditional crisis communications tools and tactics, is to understand that while many brands look to 'take its crisis or the negative comments about the brand online, offline' what then? Has your crisis team prepared or even considered the steps that need to be taken throughout the entire company? For example, informing and supporting divisions such as the customer care centre or support, by ensuring queries or comments are followed up and customers are responded to quickly, with the right information?

Today, it is very likely that you will be faced with a crisis situation online - and you need to prepare for it. The wrong tweet, a bad customer review, an employee who posts information online that causes an outcry - these are everyday scenarios facing brands and most are still stalling in their response. If social media is important to your business, then the strategy around a potential crisis for this business should also be a focus.

About Lara Magnus

Lara Magnus is one of the founding members of Orange Ink. Having understood the need to establish a communications company that can demonstrate how companies engage in meaningful conversations with their public(s), she opened Orange Ink, together with Meggan Liebenberg, in June 2003. With her focus on client services, Lara ensures that the team at Orange Ink remains focused on client retention and satisfaction. Lara also takes responsibility for overall support of the company's key business opportunities.