Crisis Management in the Age of Social Media – Why Traditional PR Doesn’t Work










There is no doubt that social media has had a major impact on the way companies manage major incidents and potential crises. In fact, a recent study by Pentland Analytics and AON Insurance found that the cost of a corporate crisis in 2018 as far as impact on shareholder value had doubled since 2000. 


The thought of an incident – a series of consumer complaints or negative comments, a problem with the safety of a product, allegations of bad conduct or corporate wrong-doing going viral over social media scares even the most experienced senior executives.


Contrary to popular belief however, social media does not cause a crisis. Conflict and confusion creates a crisis, social media is just very good at spreading that conflict and confusion faster and more broadly than ever before. 


Should you respond? 


I’ve heard it said by out of touch PR companies that when it comes to social media, “don’t give it oxygen”.


In his latest book, “Hug your Haters”, Jay Baer and Edison Research found that responding to negative comments on social media can increase consumer advocacy by 20%, 25% over discussion forums and product review sites. Likewise, failing to respond decreases consumer advocacy by around 40%.


When consumers have a problem with your company or your product, they will take to social media to express their concerns, ask questions, even express anger and frustration. At that point, you have a choice. Engage in the discussion and address those questions and concerns and make sure consumers have accurate information OR let that discussion go somewhere else where you have no influence – you may not even know it’s going on. 

If you fail to address questions and concerns, consumers will start asking others. Here misinformation and speculation starts to circulate and it is very difficult to re-enter the conversation and expect consumers to listen to you.

Perhaps ironically, social media is the only medium you control in a fast escalating incident. 


In the “old days” companies focussed on putting out media statements using clever words to make a bad situation sound better – what I refer to as corporate PR bumph. The “deadly D’s” – downplaying, denying, deflecting, defending, dismissing; arguably never worked but in these days of social media where every word will be closely scrutinised, pulled apart, analysed and discussed, this can actually fuel the crisis rather than make things better.

Relying on the media to carry your message is fraught with danger. Journalists are under no obligation to use any of your statement or use it in the way you intended. 


What you put on your Facebook page or your website however is absolutely within your control. Every word. You can’t control how consumers respond to it – you never could anyway, but you can certainly influence how consumers feel about your business and brands by how you respond. 


If you focus on engaging with consumers, answering their questions as best you can, acknowledging and empathising with their concerns, addressing the problem, you become the source of truth and more likely that consumers come back to your site for answers rather than looking to so called experts. 

If your overarching message through your response is that you care, you’re listening and you’re addressing the problem, you don’t need to worry about giving it oxygen – you can pour petrol on that message!



About Steve Hather:


Steve Hather is Director of Sydney-based CrisisClarity and has been involved in crisis management for over 30 years working for some of the world’s best known companies and brands such as Coca-Cola, George Weston Foods, Bunnings, Coles, Kmart, Sanitarium, Zespri through to small and medium food and consumer goods businesses. 


Steve specialises in social media crisis management and runs onsite and online workshops and social media simulation exercises to help companies better manage incidents and prevent reputation crises. Steve sees far too many otherwise great companies with good products get into a crisis they don’t need to have, and which have impacted consumer confidence in industry. He is a firm believer that preparation – a plan that works, people that know how to use it and practicing in a realistic simulation, can prevent a reputation crisis for any size company.

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October 19, 2019

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