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Our Twitter Is Burning: Responding to a Social Media Crisis

There’s no denying it: Social media has emerged as the leading venue for dynamic conversation, advertising, and promotion for individuals and businesses alike. The allure of “trending” or even simply being part of a national conversation is the siren song of the marketing industry. With careful management and judicious use, many have successfully used social media to promote their brand or services to the masses, while reckless others have smashed into the rocks.

It seems, however, that corporate social media crises are becoming increasingly common. Simply search for #Fail on Twitter for countless examples. Social media formats are truly 24/7 and require constant oversight and participation, which is where some things go sideways. Controlling a social media crisis is no small task but can be managed if the following concepts are observed:

Create a Plan BEFORE You Need It

From kindergarten through retirement, fire drills are a part of life. Rehearsing what you need to do in case of emergency will better your chances of survival. A social media crisis presents a similar need. Knowing beforehand what steps to take may greatly assist in preventing a small event from escalating into a large one. It’s also important to evaluate the event and know which internal staff need to be alerted and involved. A great checklist developed by the U.S Air Force can serve as a good template for how to evaluate the event and determine an appropriate response. The contact and evaluation information must be accessible to all pertinent employees, and it would be advisable to rehearse the protocols just as you would a fire drill.

Controlled Speed Is Key

The speed at which a message spreads through social media is both a blessing and a curse. The retweet speed of an errant message can far exceed the average, thus making a quick response important. Recently a major airline responded in a crisis and deleted an errant tweet in under an hour. Other messages have been expunged in far less time — all of which conveys the message that the errant tweet was an aberration and unintended. However, a panicked response can add fuel to the fire, turning a minor issue into a full-blown event. A predeveloped evaluation plan will assist in a controlled yet speedy response and serve well in calming the crisis.

Embrace Social Media Channels

The immediacy of social media can serve well to get your intended message to the masses. Focusing on just one channel or avenue may not be the best approach: 140 characters may suffice, but linking to a more detailed blog entry or video may better convey your message.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Often a crisis involves a mistaken tone or comment found to be insensitive to specific groups. A heartfelt action offering support or assistance to specific groups may well turn a small crisis into a success story.

When All Else Fails

Several insurance programs emerging in the marketplace are designed to provide coverage for libel, slander, or even copyright or trademark infringement arising from corporate social media postings. Those specialized insurance policies pick up where traditional programs fall short. At ISO, we’ve observed this need and have insurance language that may well prove useful when your Twitter starts burning.

Please feel free to e-mail Shawn Dougherty ( with any questions you may have regarding cyber risk and cyber-liability insurance.

Stay tuned for the next blog post in our Cyber Monday Series.

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