Sunday, April 16, 2017

14 Steps for Crisis Communications in an Age of Social Media & Customers as the Paparazzi

I am not going to pile on United, though they have had a bad few weeks with two full-blown public relations crisis’s in social media in the last three weeks.  But it does make one wonder if United has any capacity to learn from their mistakes given the flow of events and missteps of the past few days.

Are you paying attention?

If companies are not paying attention, especially hospital and health systems, on how the public is the paparazzi, then they can expect sooner rather than later,  that they will experience a meltdown of the provider brand and reputation through their carelessness and folly.

What happens when the social media channel turns bad on the hospital or health system?

Conventional wisdom used to say that a public relations crisis were a three-day story. Ten years ago that was the case.  Today, however, it’s a different story with social media, Facebook live and any of the other distribution channels now available.  Before, a PR crisis could be contained locally or regionally. Now with live video and social media streaming, it can become a global crisis in a mere matter of minutes.



I am not minimizing in any fashion the seriousness of what is taking place. It’s to get one’s attention. Sometimes it becomes way too easy to panic. And that needs to be avoided at all costs. Just ask United.

Take these steps to mitigate the social media communications crisis to protect the brand and organizational reputation. Many of the steps are parallel and not sequential.

The 14 steps for a public relations crisis driven by the consumer paparazzi and social media:

1.)    Do treat this as a communications failure and have a social media crisis communications plan already in place. 
2.)    Care, concern, and compassion still rule the message and the days that follow. 
3.)    Don’t jump right to the “we followed policy and staff acted appropriately.”  That makes you tone deaf and unresponsive. Plus those kinds of remarks will just further add more combustible fuel to the raging fire. 
4.)    Don’t change your message or position every day. You will look foolish and unprepared. 
5.)    Understand what happened and why. 
6.)     Identify who the influencers will be to add voice and impact the conversation. 
7.)    Actively monitor your online reputation. 
8.)    Avoid the informational black hole.  Be ready with appropriate information and press statements.  You can’t hold a news conference every time you want to say something. 
9.)    Have social media appropriate messaging that is clear and concise.
10.) Integrate your response across all social media activities. Remember that some reporters use Twitter as a basis for information and facts without verifying the authenticity of the information. 
11.) If the organization blew it, take ownership.  No excuses, the appearances of excuses or rude behavior are allowed.  Social media users are a pretty savvy group and will see right through it. It will only make matters worse.  
12.) Integrate paid and earned media.  
13.) Have clear rules of social media engagement by employees.   
14.)  Don’t forget to use your staff and their access to social media and how they can influence the conversation.  Employees are your secret weapon in this battle.

And lastly, learn from United. Hundreds of millions of dollars in lost equity and capitalization with a negative brand reputation that will take years to recover. Here is hoping that a social media crisis never comes to your doorstep.

But you can always call me when it does. Have the checkbook ready too
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Michael is a healthcare marketing business, marketing, and communications strategist and thought leader.  As an internationally followed healthcare marketing strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters receives over 20,000 page views a month and read in 52 countries.  He is a Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives, Professional Certified Marketer, American Marketing Association and HubSpot Academy- Email Marketing, Inbound Marketing & Inbound Sales Certified. Post opinions are my own.

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.

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