Social Media: Lethal Venom or Sweet Drug?


Social media is at the tip of every one’s tongue. As PR professionals, we don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media; the question is HOW WELL WE DO IT. Social media is engaging, timely and immediate and is dominated by the voice of the consumer. It is because of this very reason that in times of brewing crisis, brands need to cut through the fog and reach out to their stakeholders: responding to the crisis by taking responsibility and issuing a clear action plan. Handling a crisis should be ingrained in the very DNA of PR Professionals and communication is indispensable to surviving a crisis. So what better way to reach your consumers than by using social media?

However, as easy as this may seem, McDonalds Corporation failed to grasp the very essence of social media crisis communication.  Following the firm’s latest expired meat scandal, the Americana symbol gained widespread negative publicity.

Not only did McDonalds deny association with Shanghai Husi Food, most comments made by the Food Giant revolved around sales and profits. The latest update is an 18-month rebranding to reshape the household brand’s basic offerings, including business value, service, marketing and menu. Ironically, other than severing ties with the Shanghainese firm, McDonalds failed to communicate on the issue, leaving many angered. The firm ignored the issue on social media platforms with posts focusing on their current menu and offerings. Their approach met with massive backlash, slaughtering the firm’s attempt at “addressing” the issue.

Whether McDonalds was in a flustered state of mind is debatable but nonetheless, in this unprecedented global era of social media, utilising the medium correctly, efficiently and effectively is THE way to handle any crisis faced by companies globally or locally.

Consumers control the medium

Social media has dramatically changed the balance of power that exists between the firm and the consumers. Anyone can post comments and articles at anywhere, anytime and consumers are no longer confined to receiving information but now have the power to produce and disseminate it. The advent of social media now spreads information further and to a wider audience than any other media in world history. Social media is thus the new medium of governance for consumers.

An effective crisis communication tool

The most common social media tools used in crises are micro-blogging, social networking, blogs, photo and video sharing. It is the most utilised medium to facilitate information exchange, online conversation and mass coverage of news which moves at the speed of light. Social media is thus the virtual convenience store of the world and when used properly, it can effectively help to deal with and end a crisis.

Making PEACE with Social Media

Social media has evolved over the years; it is no longer just for individuals to share about their personal lives. With millions of users utilising social media across multiple platforms, it is a powerful communications tool especially during crises, when leveraged correctly. The online chatter may become overwhelming and may take on a life of its own due to oversight. That’s why companies should control the chatter to prevent or minimise any irrevocable damage in the wake.

That being said, every company needs social media experts. Rather than providing an A-Z guide on developing a social media crisis plan, here’s how to make PEACE with social media:

Planning for social media: Social media connects everyone but that doesn’t mean all social media platforms should be used when handling a crisis. Companies should recognise the most communicative tools to utilise and how consumers react and respond to real-life crisis on the medium.

Empowering through communication: Identify accurate information that is to be released in a timely manner via social media. These platforms serve as an official information source and enable the company to take control of potential damaging chatter. Make consumers trust you by being open and honest.

Addressing public opinions: Consumers speak openly on social media; listen to what they have to say and leave no comment answered. Negative comments are sure to arise but companies have to acknowledge the emotional dimension of the crisis. Be sensitive and let them know you care.

Congruency of information and updates:  Social media is a touch point where stakeholders engage with the organisation and which may influence their perception. Marketing and advertising should be reviewed to ensure they don’t contain inappropriate messages or images that may encourage backlash from consumers. Timing and content are essential.

Evaluating the situation: Monitoring comments gives insights on consumers’ opinions on the situation and the company: what should thus be done next and how to revitalise the company’s reputation?

Consumers are invaluable to overcoming a crisis. Social media isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass; it is about learning to dance in the rain. Here’s the heart of the matter: The essence of social media is knowing your audiences and engaging with timely and appropriate content. So, how will you use social media? Will it be your firm’s lethal venom or sweet drug during crises?

Posted by Stephanie Robert, PR Executive, CorpMedia

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