Do Social Media Crises Actually Exist?
By Kat French
You’ll find a lot of content out there regarding how to handle a “social media crisis.”
Agencies and marketers create plans, run simulations and train their front-line employees. All this effort, exerted so that they’ll be prepared when a tsunami of negativity smacks them upside the Facebook page.
But are these efforts worthwhile? Is it possible that we’re spending an extraordinary amount of energy worrying about something that doesn’t actually exist?
What is a social media crises
There are really two different kinds of scenarios people refer to when they talk about a “social media crisis”:
- A business operations or customer service problem which attracts a viral level of attention on social media. In other words: “You screwed up in real life, and people are talking about it on social media.”
- A communications gaffe that happens on a business’ official social media account, or the account of an owner or high-level staff member. In other words, “You screwed up on social media, and people noticed.”
But are these real examples of a crisis? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of “crisis” is “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.”
When do they even matter
Think about the most memorable examples of “social media crises” you can recall. Do any of them represent a crucial time demanding decisive change? Possibly, in the case of a business operations or customer service problem, a decisive change is needed. But no communications strategy has the power to enact that change. In this case, social media isn’t the fire; it’s the alarm.
What about a highly-visible communications fail? If you’re an individual, a social media fail can have serious personal consequences, like losing your job. If you’re a digital agency, it can cost you a client relationship and seriously impact your reputation. If you’re a brand or business, it can stress out your PR team for a few weeks. I’m not sure that qualifies as a bona-fide, business-wide crisis.
Alarmist language like “social media crisis” creates unnecessary fear around something that should be a normal part of doing business.
Even the most egregious brand flubs on social media have failed to have a lasting, significant impact to the company’s bottom line. While it’s embarrassing, a questionable Tweet has yet to be the root cause of any company’s stock values dropping. Jobs lost due to a social media fail are the result of personal accountability, not accounting concerns about profitability.
How they should be viewed
Crisis communications is a standard part of any business marketing toolset. It’s simply a cost of doing business. Your front line staff and social media team should absolutely be prepared to respond when something goes wrong — if only because feeling prepared will reduce their stress level and enable them to serve your customers better. That’s just being a good employer.
Heightened, alarmist language like “social media crisis” creates unnecessary fear and drama around something that should be a normal part of doing business. It supports the unrealistic expectation that nothing negative will or should ever be said about your company online.
Unfortunately, managing the fallout from mistakes is a part of every business. But the odds are, unless your situation is truly unprecedented, business will soon get back to normal.