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Do you know how to ensure social networks are your best defense against attack? It’s something you should have down pat

In one of my earlier posts (Planning for the best – to mitigate the worst) I wrote about how most mishandled crisis comms situations arise because of a lack of understanding of one’s audiences; who they are and what they want. I think the next important thing to consider when dealing with a crisis is how you can rally your community together such that it becomes a self-healing environment online. This is not to over-simplify your responsibility as a comms pro, because social media is not the only way to resolve a crisis, but it certainly is an important and integral part of it.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know I like a random analogy… so enjoy this one… a community, like a head of hair, is strong. A single strand can hold 100grams in weight, while the combined hair of a whole head can support 12 tonnes, or the weight of two elephants!

The multiplier effect, or economy of scale, means that the community you work to establish and cultivate beforehand is an amazing communications asset, when on the front foot, or the back. One person is pretty ineffective, but collectively your community is powerful.

Equally, if you don’t recognise this, you run the risk of a candle turning into a rampaging bush fire!

In my reading this week I was drawn to a character named Stanislav Petrov. Perhaps you’ve heard of ‘the man who saved the world’. He is a perfect example of how poise makes a huge difference in communications. A level head in a crisis avoids a fire getting out of hand because the wrong reaction can result in a terrible outcome.

In 1983, in the heart of the Cold War, Petrov was responsible for monitoring potential attack from the US on Russia. One day, five missiles were identified on his radar, which had he acted differently, would have surely resulted in World War III and a nuclear holocaust of epic proportion. He decided the radar was displaying an error – thank God!

Petrov said: “As I was the first source of this information the danger was that as soon as I made a decision that this rocket was real the rest of the chain of command could have been hypnotised by my conclusions. It is like the rule of roosters in a chicken coop. The first rooster starts to crow and the rest follow it.”

Goes to show the importance of checks and balances! Something, a more modern example could have benefited from, if you saw this Tweet in the last week: “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier – I have right of way he doesn’t even pay road tax #bloodycyclists”. As you can imagine, it didn’t turn out so well for the cyclist or the Tweeter. While it might sound like an obvious faux pas, in this new world, community management means you have access to the world and they can determine your fate in a matter of minutes, but while social media can be used as a weapon, I prefer to think of it as your radar, an early warning system for impending attack – one a touch more intuitive than Petrov’s, when you know what to look for! Just remember:

Don’t act alone: Even if you are the only person in comms, it doesn’t mean you don’t have people you can bounce ideas off. There is no Silver Star or Peace Prize for doing it alone!

Don’t be fooled into believing because a Tweet is instant, you don’t have time to think: It’s silly to act as if you have to publicly respond to an issue immediately. I’m not saying bury your head in the sand, or drag your heels, but sometimes taking a few minutes to breathe will be the difference between a clever response and an emotional one. We might not even be here today to talk about this had Petrov not been such a great example of consideration!

Don’t jump to conclusions: Policy is a great thing to fall back on when the heat of the fire is making it hard to think clearly. It also helps you process things in an analytical way, so you don’t misinterpret direction or social media chatter, diving head first into the shallow end of the pool.

Don’t forget, you don’t have to speak to get your point across: Once again – your community will be your best defenders, if you treat them right. You need to foster a spirit of openness amongst your followers well before any crisis unfolds. If you do, they will more than likely advocate on your behalf. If you can’t avoid a crisis all together, this is the next best outcome!

– My name is Aaron Crowther. Follow me on Twitter @ascommstweeter

One thought on “Crisis comms – how Social Media tools are your not-so-secret weapon

  1. Pingback: Under the covers – finding Twitter’s sweet spot |

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