PRSA’s August 2013 issue of PR Tactics highlights an important issue right now – one that involves your favorite and mine – the Twittersphere – and how it can be effectively, and oftentimes not so effectively, used in times of crises.

In the PR Tactics article, “Social media anxiety: 140 characters into, or out of, a crisis,” Ken Scudder, co-author of “World Class Communication,” offers some key strategies to help build and maintain a successful social presence online.

1. Reduce risk: Citing the advice of Slate’s Jeremy Stahl, Scudder reemphasizes the suggestion to make sure organizations turn off automated tweets – bringing up the importance of being cautious to not send out an inappropriate tweet at an inappropriate time. For example, if there is a national crisis and your company posts about something off-topic or frivolous in comparison.

Scudder also makes a point to elaborate on the case of an employee of Kitchen Aid, who apparently meant to post something on their personal Twitter, but accidentally used the company’s account to send the following insensitive tweet surrounding a 2012 presidential debate: “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president’.”

In the article, Scudder praises the immediate action taken by Cynthia Soledad, senior director at Kitchen Aid, who sent a series of tweets on the company’s account apologizing:

KitchenAid_1

According to Scudder, “This is a textbook example of how Twitter can get you into, and out of, trouble.”

2. Communicate carefully:  Figuring out how to best streamline the information reaching the public via your Twitter account can help avoid potential problems from happening. Scudder recommends having someone trained in crafting messages and public relations handle your social media activity. He says, “I’m not advocating ignoring the C-suite, but being able to craft a quick, effective, helpful message increases the chances of success.”

3. Set boundaries: In his third point, Scudder talks about a LinkedIn conversation he participated in about your ability to control to what extent the employees at your company engage on social media during a crisis. His answer during the discussion: “You can’t ‘forbid’ it, but you can point out how important it is to have the company speak with one voice and that accurate information is dispensed at all times.”

And while not discussed in Scudder’s PR Tactics article, but perhaps further proving each of his three points, is the tale of the Marc Jacobs intern who took to the company’s @MarcJacobsIntl account and unleashed his frustration with his internship at the company. The intern apparently had access to the account as part of the duties of his internship.

MarcJacobstweet

Keeping control of your message in the hands of someone qualified could hopefully curb a possible crisis from happening. At the very least, entrusting it with someone who has the know-how to handle a crisis if something out of your control were to arise could help salvage your reputation.

In another example, Gloria Huang, an employee of the American Red Cross, was using HootSuite, a service that enables you to manage multiple social media accounts at once, and accidentally tweeted from @RedCross:

RedCrossTweet

Gloria Huang then successfully sent the following from her actual Twitter account:

GloriaTweet

After realizing what had happened, the American Red Cross sent:

RedCross2

According to BuzzFeed’s account of what happened, and a post on Dogfish Head’s blog (Dogfish Head is the beer Gloria was excited Ryan had found), Dogfish Head responded, and urged their fans and the craft beer community to support the efforts of the American Red Cross:

DogfishHead

And that they did:

FanTweet

 

donation

And even still, Red Cross employee Gloria Huang acknowledges the mistake in the bio section of her Twitter page. “Infamous for #gettngslizzerd,” she says.

RedCross_2

This case is a great example of turning a Twitter-oopsie into a Twitter-success, thanks to both the American Red Cross and Dogfish Head. When a situation like this happens, a lot of it comes down to what happens next. What happens after you accidentally press “Tweet.” What can be done to make a bad situation have as good of an outcome as possible.

Although not specific to crisis communication, Twitter can also be used not only as a way to reach your audience, but used actually as a tool through which you can actively engage them. Take Boston’s Fox 25 station, who urged viewers to follow them on Twitter in an effort to “beat” sister station, My Fox LA, in the race for a spot on Lost Remote’s list for the Top Local TV Stations on Twitter. They used the hashtag #BeatLA to signify a rivalry in getting more Twitter followers, rather than the perhaps more commonly recognized Boston Celtics versus Los Angeles Lakers rivalry.

As Scudder underlines in his PR Tactics article, social media can certainly be a source of anxiety. It’s also something that can be tremendously effective – when you reduce your risk, when you communicate carefully and when you put boundaries into place.

Stay tuned…

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