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It's a social media crisis

Good news spreads fast, but bad news spreads even faster. Social media disseminates news at a dizzying pace and offers anyone the opportunity to pitch in with their two cents. Consumers are increasingly choosing to air their grievances with businesses in a public manner on social media channels.

According Altimeter, an American research firm, the number of crises occurring in social media has risen steadily. The agency investigated 50 social media crises over a period of 10 years. In 2010 and 2011 alone there were 10 separate crises identified. A study by Ethical Corporation showed that 38% of businesses that underwent a social media crisis were unprepared to deal with the negative impact. A crisis can now originate from a social media source. This development raises a number of issues for businesses.

A social media crisis, or a crisis that occurs in or is strengthened by social media, can have a negative impact on any business. Consequences range from negative coverage in the media in general to financial loss. The question remains if there is anything business owners can do to limit the damage? Can a business manage a social media crisis?

Multinational brand Kellogg's honed in on social media after negative conversations about the brand were picked up on social media channels. Michael Phelps, a company ambassador, had been misrepresenting the brand. Ever since, the brand has been closely monitoring conversations between customers, and now they try to address problems as soon as they arise. Nestlé, on the other hand, experienced a crisis when Greenpeace activists took to Facebook to protest against the felling of trees for palm oil. Nestle tried to curb the crisis by removing the reactions of activists and customers alike, but that proved to be counterproductive. The number of negative reactions continued to escalate, fueled by the open nature of Facebook. Had Nestlé been prepared for a social media crisis, they would have been able to tackle the situation quickly and professionally.

In order to cope with a social media crisis businesses need a social media crisis management plan. This plan tells the business what to do when the reputation of the brand needs safeguarding. The most important part of a social media crisis management plan is the part that looks at the internal structure of the business. If a business wants to manage a social media crisis successfully, the various departments within the business must be completely synchronized. Internal communication must be streamlined to be able to respond instantly with a unified message. The alignment of processes results in what is called an enterprise-wide response process. Additionally, it is important to give plenty of thought to the norms and values that are being communicated. The brand style should always remain recognizable to the receiver, even during a crisis.

It is not always possible to avoid a social media crisis. However, the good news is that such a crisis can be managed with the right preparation. By aligning internal business processes and streamlining communication a social media crisis can be quickly identified and stopped in its tracks.