How to maintain control in the speed of ‘now’ – and turn social to your advantage

A brand’s success stands or falls on its public perception. There is a direct correlation between the trust that customers and the general public have in a brand and its overall profits. Social media has revolutionised not only the way that brands engage with customers and the public at large, but also the way that they operate and succeed... or fail.

In the UK alone there are currently 44 million active social media users, representing 66% of the population. That’s great exposure and coverage if a brand is excelling in its social campaigns, but it can all go sour when a crisis hits. The scale of a fallout can be vast and, most importantly, quick. The recent British Airways data breach, affecting some 380,000 customer payment cards, is one of the latest examples of where a brand is immediately thrust under the spotlight. In such cases seconds count and it’s essential brands tell the right message, at the right time - communicating in an empathetic but knowledgeable way with worried customers.

Going social to head off a crisis

In a crisis, when it feels like the nation’s eyes are on your brand, reactions can escalate swiftly on social media and inflammatory customer complaints often make their way into rolling news coverage. When used correctly social media can be a truly effective frontline tool for customer engagement and reassurement - helping brands stay in control of the situation. But when used poorly, or in a reactionary way, it can fan the flames, resulting in a brand crisis.

With the overwhelming speed in which reactions can spread on social media, it can be tempting for corporate communications teams involved in a crisis to think that the speed of response is everything. Sometimes however, haste can only exacerbate the issue. Over and above communicating on an issue, the insights found on social media can be used as a strategic tool to take the temperature of the crisis, helping brands understand the context behind a situation before acting.

Knowing first is essential in a crisis, but acting with full intelligence is far more important than acting fast. It only takes one stumbled miscommunication on social media to open up a sinkhole and start a whole new crisis, when the real focus should be on controlling the source of the issue. Talk Talk and Telefonica know from first hand experience how important it is in a slow burn crisis to be considered, concise and accurate in all external communications - acting only once all the facts are known, and not in a knee-jerk manner.

Taking back control

Twitter is often a brand’s gateway to the public, and journalists are increasingly turning to it as a source of eyewitness accounts, reactions to incidents and, most importantly in a crisis, what the company under scrutiny is saying. In the early stages of a crisis, brands can capitalise on the very public nature of their Twitter feed, and assert first control of the situation. First matter of course in controlling a crisis may be to issue a public statement that succinctly states what’s happened, followed by regular updates as the facts start to emerge. It’s all about taking control, and then maintaining that throughout every stage of a crisis, whilst communicating the right message, at the right time.

The fallout from Elon Musk’s recent tweet about securing funding for Tesla has shown the huge impact of what is communicated on social media has on a company’s bottom line. So much so, investors betting on a fall have made $1.09 billion as stocks have dropped following the resulting legal enquiry. It’s imperative brands understand the true impact of social and, more pressingly, the impact that saying the wrong thing can have on a firm’s long term reputation. Context remains king when all eyes are on a company. In a crisis situation brands can turn the speed and real-time nature of social media to their advantage, and not be controlled or dictated by it. This enables firms to assert control first, and maintain it through considered, accurate and insight driven communications.

Social media is now part of the fabric of everyday life and it shouldn’t be considered an enemy in a crisis. Seconds count and news can spread like wildfire, but brands don’t have to pull the shutters down. As social media channels provide that instant, real-word view brands can use it to quickly analyse and identify the most important and relevant signals from the wider noise and chatter, helping them make the most informed decisions faster than previously possible. It’s easy to be intimidated by the pace, but used properly it can help firms sound the alarm early, keep their reputation intact and head off a crisis before it escalates - making sure they’re in control in the moment. Harnessed in the right way during times of crisis, social media can be an asset to PR, crisis communication and security professionals. It can give the gift of time to get ahead, and stay ahead, of the situation.

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