Crisis in a Keystroke – Are You Prepared?

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A lot of the focus on social media is about marketing of brands and products.  But what about crisis communications?  The truth is – the lack of any digital strategy with respect to crisis communications planning can have a profoundly negative effect when a crisis does erupt.  

That is true for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, the eyeballs have moved.  Increasingly, people are getting their news from the Internet and even through social media.  One need only look at a few of the many findings from the annual Pew State of the News Media report to know that.  

The other reason is that a crisis can emerge in the ether and take form, menace and momentum in almost no time where the smallest communication by an individual can, via electronic means, quickly grow to a chorus.  Last year, I developed a presentation called "Crisis in a Keystroke" that presents a made up case study to demonstrate how quickly a crisis can occur and take hold and spread before a company even knows that it is happening.  

Consider, for example, that on Twitter, while a person may only have a few hundred followers, the second generation of followers may number thousands upon thousands.  Twitter isn't just a lot of people chatting, it is an echo chamber for ideas, sentiments and news stories.  Consider also, as pointed out in yesterday's posting, how many reporters are now on Twitter.  They include many pharma industry beat reporters.  

And so, on the one hand, a highly regulated industry such as the medical products industry may feel inhibited from entry into the digital space, and judging from the large number of industry members who aren't even using RSS feeds yet, some have not taken even the most basic baby steps.  But on the other hand, the changes in the field of communications practically demand some sort of digital literacy of medical product manufacturers when it comes to crisis.

What are the basic steps?  They are:

  1. Monitoring - There is such a thing as real time search and there are many tools to help you find out what people are saying about you as they say it.  Make sure you are monitoring social media to see when your company and/or brand are mentioned, what the messaging is and who is saying it.  Set up a Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, have your Google Reader aggregating important sources and do periodic real time searches when there is something brewing.  
  2. Assessment - In what is truly an "if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it…" situation, when someone is talking about you in the digital space, make sure you assess whether or not they are likely be an influencer.  Check out their Twitter power with tools like Twinfluence or use of the Twitalzyer.  If they are a blogger, check out their following with Compete or Quantcast or check out their Google page rank.  
  3. Message Platforms and Delivery – If there is a crisis emerging, and you don't have an RSS feed in which to send messages out so that they are instantly received by stakeholders (in other words, you are using an old email system for distribution of materials, that is much slower and has less penetration), then it will be hard for you to react in a timely manner, and in digital, time is of the essence.  And if you only have a Web page on which to place messages, you are making people come to your site to find your material.  If you have a Facebook page, or a corporate blog, however, you have a message platform that will not only put your messages out there, but will allow others to pick it up and carry it to others – which is the very nature of social media.

Those are the basics.  Without tools, when crisis strikes, you have limited options for fixes.  

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