Use of Social Media in Crisis Situations
Social media are online forms of communication for influencing, for shaping and sharing messages, and for evaluating, educating, and networking. Their popularity, vis-à-vis traditional media, as a means to obtain information and communicate with social and professional networks has soared in the past decade. Among the most commonly used forms of media by generations Y and Z, social media have immense potential and can be used effectively in building or marring corporate reputation.
Organizations, wary of the impact of social media, are proactively taking steps to promote self-image and mitigate negative influences that may damage reputation. For instance, factually incorrect statements or misinterpretations in cyberspace can lead to a crisis situation, which may be difficult, though not impossible, to address. This entry discusses how social media are used and the risks they pose to organizations, the attributes of social media, techniques for establishing a presence on social media, and social media and crisis communication.
Research indicates that social media can be used by competitors of an organization in a crisis situation to fuel the situation and tarnish the image of the organization. A crisis is a sudden untoward incident that affects and disrupts the smooth functioning of an organization. The damage created thereof can be of varying degrees of intensity and can cost the company a huge financial or reputational loss. However, a crisis is often the result of a sequence of events or incorrect decisions taken by the company or leadership team. Normally, it takes time and effort to address this situation and regain organizational reputation. The situation is further compounded if the crisis stems from social media. Scholarship on social media asserts that it can have a greater impact on reputation than print media because of its speed, volume, and reach.
Attributes of Social Media
Social technologies provide a platform to any user to share content and generate conversation at an unprecedented speed. Most of the messages are unfiltered and shared openly and instantaneously. Though there are multiple advantages associated with social media, the disadvantages are equally huge. On the one hand, social media provide organizations with an opportunity to talk directly to consumers and to capture and address their concerns. On the other hand, irresponsible stakeholders can use social media to their advantage by generating messages that instantly go viral, fuel hostility, create negativity, and damage organizational reputation. The damage can be contained if organizations act proactively and take steps to counter the threat. Familiarity with the attributes of social media can help organizations manage online crises and resurrect their image.
Social media are collaborative and participatory, which means that almost anyone and everyone can be talking and participating in online conversations at a given point in time. Online communities have immediate and direct access to information posted on social media platforms, as these platforms do not have a centralized mechanism for controlling messages or interaction.
As the stakes are high, proactive organizations invest in forming online crisis management teams focused on creating a benevolent online presence and building reputation.
Establishing a Presence
Dedicated teams are created by forward-looking organizations to counter social media crisis situations by monitoring online conversation. The most important step in this process is listening. Online curators listen to the conversations with the use of certain keywords and aggregators. These help determine the nature of online dialogue. In case it is unfavorable, immediate steps are adopted to correct the situation. Organizations also create social media evangelists, who are experts in domain knowledge, are high on authority, have a following, control conversations, and exercise influence in cyberspace. Organizations often seek the help of these evangelists in managing their reputation, more so in the case of a crisis. Dialogue initiated by them to correct the situation is perceived to be credible.
As influencers in the market situation, these social media evangelists track and monitor audience responses and manage the image of the organization. Some of the techniques they follow are listening, engaging in dialogue, providing information, and sharing data. Their true worth is tested during a crisis situation, when they control the conversation and dialogue and inform followers of the correct sequence of events through various social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Undoubtedly, the use of social media in such situations ensures higher reach and speed than would otherwise be the case.
Social Media and Crisis Communication
Social media can be proactively used in multiple ways to abate the intensity of a crisis. This requires ongoing communication and conversations so that when a crisis hits, customers are willing to listen. Hence, collaboration is the first technique. Appealing to customers is important as they are part of online communities. An incorrect move can antagonize them and other members in the close-knit communities, who may decide to move to competing products and competitors. If an organization has inadvertently made a cyber mistake or been terse in addressing customer complaints, apology is the best recourse. However, this cannot be adopted as an ongoing technique.
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