SungardASVoice: Avoiding PR Disasters: Five Tips For Integrating Social Media Into Your Communication Plan

Apr 23 2014, 10:58am CDT | by

By Aaron Aanenson

A recent survey by Continuity Insights showed that 60% of respondents do not have a social media strategy to respond to a disaster.  This avoidance of social media is mainly driven by the fear of exposure to reputational risk … witness the US Airways “Tweet from Hell” that rocked the Twitter world earlier in April.  And, that tweet was just the latest of the mega-mistakes tweeted by corporate America.

But think about it from a business continuity standpoint: social media has the power to move information faster than traditional news outlets and is available on nearly all internet-connected devices.  As such, it has the opportunity to aid your organization during a crisis to communicate quickly and effectively.  Many enabling technologies in business carry inherent risks, but given appropriate mitigation strategies, you can avoid most of them.  Here are five steps you can take now to improve your communications strategy using social media.

1)      Prepare a strategy.  Do you have a social media strategy?  Do you plan to use social media to communicate with the public, your employees, or both?  Drafting a social media strategy should include relevant stakeholders, including Corporate Communications, Marketing, and Public Relations departments in addition to those responsible for Business Continuity.  Ensure that the strategy includes an awareness program so that employees fully understand that their posted content must remain professional.  In light of the PR mishaps that have occurred after employees have posted unprofessional content, many companies now require employees to sign a separate social media agreement that clearly states repercussions for inappropriate, publically-accessible comments.  Additionally, develop a strategy to monitor the web for reputation-damaging content in an effort to proactively reduce its impact.

2)      Pre-craft your messaging.  Have you ever written a message later to find that it was misunderstood or misconstrued?  What makes sense to an individual may not have the same meaning to a wider audience and the likelihood for this mistake is generally amplified during a chaotic event.   Prepare messaging that your organization would use to respond to the most likely events that may occur.  These events can be identified by a risk assessment, or if you don’t have one, historical events and relevant news stories.  Develop a vetting process so that corporate messages posted on social media do not contain information that is inaccurate, personal, reactionary, or otherwise unprofessional.  Content posted to the web should be considered permanent, even if retracted.  Although each event will require different messaging, having a basis for what should be included in each message will help during a chaotic event.

3)      Practice and post content regularly.  Users must be consistently reminded of your social media presence or else they will not know where to look for guidance, rendering the organization’s communication efforts ineffective.  According to Andrew Walls, research vice president at Gartner, the use of a new communications method can be detrimental if it is being used for the first time during a crisis.  Organizations should ensure that BCM processes are integrated into the social media strategy and include them during regular exercises of the BCM plans to push resiliency forward.  “In many cases, social media may represent the only available means of locating and contacting personnel; providing stakeholders with the information and assistance they need; informing citizens, customers and partners of product/service availability; and taking other business-critical actions following a disruptive event,” said Wall.  Keep in mind that exercising BCM plans in the public domain carries some risk that can be avoided using certain precautions.  You do not want the public to think there is a real crisis at hand during an exercise.

4)      Praise participation.  As users become increasingly aware of your organization’s social media presence, they will begin to share relevant content.  Encourage participation by incentivizing employees to contribute meaningful content to the social media effort.  As the user base grows, so will the collective trust in the platform.  This in turn makes users more comfortable, and therefore more likely, to continue using it.  A social media presence with an active employee pool not only shows favorably to the public and the media during normal business conditions, but also suggests that employees will be active on the organization’s social media sites during a crisis, thus aiding the Crisis Communication Team in their efforts.

5)      Provide alternate resources.  Sensitive information may need to be shared internally and should not be published on social media sites.  It also cannot be compulsory for employees to post business-related content using their personal accounts.  Some employees may not want their personal content to be associated with their organization.  Provide an alternate means for employees to contribute meaningful content outside of a social network, such as email, text messaging, or an internal platform such as SharePoint or Jive, and ensure that all employees are comfortable sending and receiving messages using their preferred medium.

Many organizations have successfully integrated social media into their culture to allow the benefits of modern technology and contemporary lifestyles to aid their mission.  When used with a strong strategy, social media is an economical addition to the communications tools that you use today to further your organization’s resiliency efforts.


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