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Old crisis-communication tricks can’t fight ‘a new type of fire’

March 10, 2010


Amid a rash of recent product recalls — from bad brakes on cars to salmonella in vegetable dips — bloggers, tweeters and niche consumer forums are amplifying every possible risk to their followers, virtually guaranteeing mainstream media coverage. As Bernhard Warner writes for the Washington Post, once the news media picks up the story, a second wave of bloggers, Twitter users and amateur consumer-watchdogs takes notice and repeats the coverage — alerting more reporters and turning a few tweets into a potential panic.
Warner, who is editorial director for the consultancy Social Media Influence, says that all companies should fear the #recall hashtag on Twitter. But most big brands are still unprepared to defuse Twitter tempests and blog storms because they’re using old tricks to fight a new type of fire. “I’m afraid the handy crisis-communication manual will be of no help in the age of Twitter,” Warner writes.
In the new world of social media, citizen watchdogs don’t worry about the freshness of an unsavory news event, and renewed public outrage makes an old PR crisis fair game for journalists. The PR wait-and-see strategy is also dead — now just a single tweet by a well-connected person can have you battling a full-blown fiasco in a matter of hours, even on the weekend. Compared to under-resourced newsrooms, the public has abundant time, a short-term memory and ample indignation. Spin won’t work anymore. Today’s big brands, Warner writes, have to be present in the discussion forums where the fracas is raging, and give the public genuine, timely and transparent responses. — Greg Beaubien


Erik Deckers says:

The best way for the PR pros and the crisis communicators to get a handle on the crush of publicity in social media is to actually be a part of it. They can't just pooh-pooh it as a bunch of cranks, any more than they can dismiss their least favorite news outlet. Bloggers and social media people have readers and friends who put more faith into THEIR pronouncements than they do the mainstream media. Social media is changing the way people communicate, much to the detriment of the mainstream media. Corporations and PR pros need to start communicating with their customers, not with the media.

March 12, 2010

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