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TOMORROW IS TOO LATE

Companies must jump on the social networking bandwagon, now

Tomorrow is too late when it comes to crisis management. A text book we used early on during the grad school program I am in suggested that 24 to 48 hours was a suitable time to respond to an issue or crisis. Most public relations professionals worth their salt today would laugh at that number. If you aren’t involved in a conversation about a crisis within 30 minutes of it happening, you’re playing catch-up through the whole ordeal and company branding and trust is likely to be damaged.

Think back to the Chick-fil-A blunder, BP’s big mistake and the Domino’s disaster.

socialmediaWe live in a 24-hour news cycle world. People log on to Facebook in the morning to talk about what they ate for breakfast, hipsters instagram photos of bricks and sidewalks or ironic signs like they’ve never seen them before and more than two million active Twitter users tweet and retweet as fast as they can type 140 characters. Companies simply don’t have the luxury of taking a step back to decide a method of response these days. Plans should be thought out in advance and must be carried out in a multi-front way.

“The savvy journalists are not waiting by their fax machine for an official press release, but are ready to quote live accounts of passengers and bystanders being shared online,” wrote Shashank Nigam on Simpliflying.com in response to the July 2013 Asiana Airlines 214 crash in California. Nigam noted that Asiana Airlines was the major voice not present in the world-watched aftermath of the crash. It’s important to the success of modern companies, such as those in the airline industry, to be present where conversations are being had. Anyone with a smartphone can upload information or photos of breaking news and company displeasure. And with LTE service and WiFi increasingly available, spreading news via social media can happen with ease. That means, industry professionals must monitor Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and any other social media outlet that takes off. Ideas of controlling information go out the window considering social media. Issues must be addressed on all fronts. Tales of angry customers taking to Twitter and Facebook to bash brands happens so often that companies must understand the time to shift the way they respond to both digital and traditional methods is now.

asianaNigam noted that while the voice of Asiana Airlines wasn’t heard, a clear and loud (but calm) voice echoed over social media. David Eun, former president of AOL Media and Studios, tweeted, “I just crash landed at SFO. Tail ripped off. Most everyone seems fine. I’m ok. Surreal…” Eun was a passenger on the July 6, 2013 Asiana airplane crash. His tweet, coupled with a photo, was retweeted 32,700 times and his 2,000 person Twitter following increased about 10 times just hours following the crash. Simpliflying reported that the first tweet about the crash happened just 30 seconds after the crash and that tweet was quoted more than 4,000 times by media outlets in a period of 24 hours. “The lesson learnt is that social media needs to be an integral part of any crisis management plan for an airline or an airport today. There is no longer the luxury to respond in two hours, or even 20 minutes,” Nigam posted on the website.

Need more proof digital is the way to go?

Morrison Foerster’s hosts a Socially Aware blog that discusses the Internet and social media boom and how that relates to consumers and businesses. The blog released findings in November 2012 regarding how many people use different social media outlets, and how much time they spend on which outlets. The blog reported that, in 2011, the average American spent 6.9 hours each month using social media. That’s nearly a full work day minus a lunch break. That number was up from social media users spending 2.7 hours each month tweeting and “liking” in 2006. Three hours each month was spent on YouTube in 2011, according to Socially Aware. Another interesting shift in interactive time reported by the blog is that email and instant messaging fell 22 percent and 42 percent, respectively, while social media use rose 24 percent between July 2010 and October 2011 when it comes to 15 to 24 year olds. Other age groups reflected that shift, too. The fastest growing social networking user segments are males and people older than 55, Socially Aware reported. Although numbers are likely to have increased in the year following the blog’s findings, in 2012, 56 percent of Americans had a social networking profile and 22 percent of people in the United States use social media several times each day. Social media accounted for 18 percent of all time spent on line in 2012, the numbers showed. My guess is that number has grown by now.

Still not convinced digital is the way to go? Here are some quick numbers that show the shift is valid.

A 2012 Neilsen survey found that 18- to 24-year-olds, of whom half make less than $15,000, said they own a smartphone. The device was a luxury the young adults said they weren’t willing to do without. The Pew Internet Project found that, in 2011, 35 percent of those the group called for a survey said they owned a smartphone. Nine out of 10 smartphone owners surveyed used their phones for Internet access with about 78 percent doing so every day. Cisco Visual Networking predicted that by the end of 2012 there would be more smartphones than people on the planet and that by 2016, there would be 1.4 smartphones per person on Earth. With the growth of smartphone ownership and the ever-developing world of social media applications for phones and tablets, future crisis and issues management researchers should keep an eye on any developments that could make it even easier for consumers to make their voices heard.

Social media, for better or worse, is a fast way for news to travel. Companies should be pro-actively looking for ways to get in on the conversation, both before and after a crisis.