I read a fascinating article by Casey Newton in The Verge called “Protect the brand or die trying: inside a fake social media crisis”. The article discusses a company called Polpeo, a subsidiary of the social media management firm eModeration, which specializes in a novel new corporate exercise: the simulated brand crisis.
“Police officers train for various crises all the time; so do airline pilots. But most corporations don’t — even as the rise of social networks allows bad news about them to spread globally at record speed…More than a quarter of brand-related failures typically go international within an hour on social media, according to Polpeo, and a year after the crisis passes, more than half of companies haven’t recovered their share price.”
We all hear about social media gaffs in the news, so you know that even the most well respected companies can make some profound mistakes on social media. The ability to effectively deal with a social media crisis is a necessary skill for those in the industry.
The journalist who authored this article attended a seminar, which was a social media crisis simulation designed by Polpeo. He joined a group of mostly public relations or crisis communication professionals, and they divided into five teams to tackle this fake scenario:
“Lucian Jacobs is the kind of Silicon Valley founder that makes the rest of them look bad. He gets drunk in public, gropes women at the bar, and is having an affair with an unpaid intern. And to top it all off, he’s scheduled to speak at South by Southwest tomorrow — at a panel about women and technology…We’ll respond to the crisis using various simulated social networks, while a team of Polpeo employees works behind the scenes, replying to our communications in real time from a host of puppet accounts.”
The groups received orchestrated tweets from individuals saying ‘I cant believe the CEO of this company is snorting cocaine at a bar.’ The situation quickly escalated into a full blown social media crisis, and the teams competed to see who could deal with the situation the best. The author’s group faltered at first. They realize they need a leader and some sort of direction. The situation was growing too big to simply deal with negative tweets from a one-off basis. After they formed a loose hierarchy, they begin to respond to tweets saying ‘we are aware of the situation.’… but people begin to demand answers and they needed to quickly take control of the situation.
Throughout the next several hours, his team is hit with an onslaught of disasters. For example, the CEO’s intern girlfriend tweets about her exciting night partying with him. Afterwards, team quickly emails the conference to cancel his participation. The group falters once again when:
“the simulator starts dinging us for not responding to people quickly enough. One of the community managers suggest we start responding faster — while using the frowny-face emoji. “It humanizes the brand,” he says. And you know what? He’s right.”
One of his teammates collapses in a fit of frustration when the CEO is arrested for indecent exposure. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in real life, social media coordinators quit or give up on the spot. A crisis can grow out of control, and social media professionals are rarely trained for these types of situations. The author’s team eventually takes home the winning prize for dealing with the situation most effectively. By the time he left the seminar, he was thoroughly convinced that crisis training is vital to people in the social media industry.
Personally, I think all large corporations should take part in these types of simulations. News can grow faster than a blink of an eye on social media and a crisis can grow out of hand faster than someone can effectively respond. Proper training for a crisis can save incredible amounts of money in the long term.
“Billion-dollar companies may still scoff at the idea of dropping everything to respond to some angry tweets — and yet if there’s anything we’ve learned online this decade, it’s that the vengeful mobs that form on social networks can be terribly effective.”
Here, Polpeo published a breakdown of what went well during the simulation, and what mistakes were made. Does your departments or companies have a plan in case of a social media crisis? Perhaps a social media crisis simulation would be a good activity for our class 🙂