03 November 2016

Communicating a clear message in a time of crisis

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Social media has forever changed the marketing and PR landscapes. No longer do the general public have to wait for the information to be released, the glossy brochures or the well-shaped prose.  When a crisis hits your brand it is off and running in the time it takes to blink.

Platforms such as twitter now dictate the flow of news and information to see how adaptive an organisation has to be in the realities of social media.

All you have to do is look towards the US Presidential election to see the growing influence of social media on a brand. In only a couple of days, the campaign of Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton has been derailed by vague statements about an FBI investigation into emails sent between Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, the political strategist and Vice-Chairwoman of Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

While nothing concrete has been released, vague innuendo is doing what it does best in the fertile social media landscape. It’s flourishing. Thriving. Suggestions of illegal activity are floating around on social media without any real proof.

The campaign to elect Hillary Clinton is losing ground rapidly to Republican nominee Donald Trump, himself no stranger to the impact social media can have on an election campaign in light of his ‘locker room’ talk.

Closer to home former Family First Senator Bob Day is dealing with his own social media crisis. In light of his building empire being handed to liquidators and hundreds of Australian families left in the lurch with half-built homes, Mr Day announced he would be resigning from the Senate.

When it became apparent he would not be leaving until after he voted for the contentious ABCC legislation rumours abounded he was staying put only to put the boot into the workers who were left with nothing after his business ran aground.

A clarification that he wasn’t actually resigning until after the vote caused no end to the social media uproar and a quiet re-announcement of his resignation while Australia’s back was turned, busy with Melbourne Cup revelry, was met with a further wave of social media scorn. 

Further developments, overnight, are now questioning Mr Day’s eligibility to even have stood at the 2016 election have been raised and the issue now appears to be headed to the Australian High Court.

What all these situations have in common is a basic lack of understanding of just how fast social media can move. Fantasy author, the late Sir Terry Pratchett, said in one of his novels; “A lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”

While the context is different, the truth of the quote is blatant for anyone to see. For all the good social media can do it can do equal amounts of damage to a person, or companies, brand.

Understanding the importance of effective crisis communication strategies and leadership is the difference between directing the messaging during a crisis, or riding reactively against a turning tide of public opinion.

Before you’re knee deep in a situation that could forever damage your brand or reputation, keep the following in mind:

Fight or Flight:

In life, when something goes wrong we have two inbuilt survival mechanisms, fight or flight. Social media makes instant replies very easy, for everyone. But it is important to take the time to formulate a clear message before going public. While the time taken can allow for misinformation to flourish, it is important everyone in the team is on-board with the message being presented. As we all know, once it’s tweeted it’s never really deleted. Knowing the situation and formulating your response is more useful long-term than shooting off a tweet while you’re half in the dark.

Develop an effective crisis management process:

The last thing you want is to have a crisis become a trending topic without warning. Develop an in-house warning system which is designed to detect early social media warning signs. Consider the internal processes on how content is delivered online and work out a ‘worse-case scenario’. Having an established protocol; what to look out for, who to contact, who to reach and how for sign off will save you a lot of time and anguish if a situation begins to spin out of control.

Do your research:

This history of social media is littered with social media fails. From hash tags with unintended consequences to promotions that were best left on the boardroom floor.

Who can forget the “Lest We Forget” Woolworths campaign? Tying the Centenary of Gallipoli to a Supermarket brand? You have to wonder who thought that was a good idea, or why Woolworths was so slow to remove the Meme generator given it was trending - with negative feedback - in a matter of minutes.

The list of social media missteps that could have been avoided with a bit of research and understanding of the market is never ending.


When you enter the arena of social media you need to be prepared for the knocks that will come your way. 

Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well-known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.


Mike’s most recently published story, Seeds of Eden, is featured in the Sproutlings Anthology released in March 2016. 

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