Social Media Pushing For Crisis Management Change

Within one minute of a Boeing 777 crash-landing at San Francisco International Airport in 2013, it was on Twitter with a photo from an eye-witness observer. Within 30 minutes the number had risen to more than 44,000 tweets with photos and videos taken by survivors.

The wave of social media coverage illustrated three phenomena which have vastly complicated the challenge facing communication professionals in the aftermath of an incident.

Firstly, the sheer number of people actively using social media platforms each month is now passed the two billion mark; potential “citizen journalists” or 28% of the world’s population.

The second is mobility: more than half of all internet access globally is via mobile devices, such as smart phones, tablets, and notebook computers.

Thirdly, the impetus to interact more with communities (stakeholders) through social media directly derives from dissatisfaction with traditional media.

% of online adults who use the following social media websites, by year


More than half the planet now owns a mobile phone, with unique users now exceeding 3.6 billion. Globally active mobile subscriptions now exceed 7.1 billion, suggesting that the average phone owner maintains almost 2 active subscriptions.

If an incident occurs in a populated area, or at a highly visible location, eyewitnesses or participants can now capture and share images of the event, upload videos or post comments via their mobile devices before any organisation, or government department concerned may even be fully aware of what has happened.

Once the story breaks on social media, the opportunity to provide factual information and influence the developing narrative is reduced to minutes.

However, social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, provide organisations with an equal opportunity to reach the news media and other audiences quickly and to provide constantly updated information in an emergency.

Effectively harnessing the power of social media should be a top priority for all organisations and, therefore be an integral part of any organisation’s plans to respond to an accident or major incident. It goes without saying, that the time to prepare for an accident or serious incident is before it occurs, and these preparations should be exercised on a routine basis.

RMK+Associates has the background, experience and front-line history to help governments and organisations with their crisis management plans and responses to ensure they are fully prepared for, and capable of responding to any incident.


Fast and social, disastrous consequences

Fast and social, disastrous consequences

The arrival of social media has been both transformative and disruptive. Certainly for anyone under the age of 40 it is likely to be a major part of their daily lives.

Any medium seen by billions of eyes will quickly attract the attention of business communicators, and rightly so. However, as with any communication channel, the use of social media needs to be carefully thought through, for both message and for suitability.

Of critical importance is the prime differentiator of social media; it is communal and largely uncontrolled. Businesses engaging in social media are undertaking the modern equivalent of standing on a soap box in a busy town square and shouting one’s views, or offerings to invite instant crowd feedback.

To coin a phrase, ‘what could possibly go wrong?’

The answer is, of course, quite a lot. Quickly.

Recently another industry disrupter, ride sharing platform Uber, arrived in Melbourne and started making life quite difficult for the local taxi industry. Uber does not need highly prized taxi licences, despatch, depot or taxi rank infrastructure. All that is needed is someone who wants to make a few dollars out of driving folks around in their car and an app on a mobile phone. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the Victorian Taxi Directorate would want to stop Uber.

In addition to the legal challenges it launched, the VTD thought it would be a good idea to launch a social media campaign to remind people what a ‘fantastic’ service they offered. So their agency launched a Facebook page with a competition asking customers to share their happy taxi customer stories. The supposed incentive being that they could win a year’s free taxi rides.

If you don’t already know what happened next there is a fair chance you will have guessed.

The campaign was wildly successful in providing a public forum for anyone with a gripe about taxi services to vent their displeasure. From smelly cabs and sweaty, clueless drivers, to aggressive and sexist behaviour all the way to actual sexual assaults, the site was swamped with unhappy customers who basically told the taxi industry where to stick their free year of rides.


The whole thing went viral in the worst possible way and was then picked up by all the traditional media, heaping more criticism on the industry and the industry body.

The campaign was scrapped, the agency fired and the Victorian Taxi Directorate had to make the humiliating admission that they would focus on better service delivery rather than social media gimmicks.

The lesson? Don’t rush into the latest communication medium without fully understanding how it works and what the possible outcomes could be. Strategic communication planning will help avoid such disasters, but close consideration of the chosen tactical communication tools is also required if the potential for an own-goal is to be eliminated.

The first principle of thinking things through is not a bad starting point in any communication activity.

Hand on a beach sinking or drowning in quicksand

Social media. The potential for digital quicksand

I am reliably informed, by my 14 year old daughter, that “you’re too old for social media. Who would want to see what you’re doing?”

Who indeed? Heaven knows half the time even I don’t.

Never-the-less social media is here to stay and anyone in a position of authority and power, be that in a business or in government, needs to understand a few rules about how and when to engage and, perhaps even more importantly, when to stay clear.

Let’s start with the obvious. Ashley Madison.

Surely the rule around that particular site should have been obvious. If you want to conduct a clandestine affair it is probably not wise to advertise your desire to do so in the digital equivalent of the town square.

Yes, the site administrators will assure you that confidentiality is their guiding principle but you are on a public communication platform. It is most likely that the aforementioned 14 year old possesses the skills to ensure that your confidential information is shared with the rest of the English speaking world.

So the rule is: Private is not on the net.

Now for something a little trickier. Personal social media presence impacting on professional lives.

 An example:

You have recently started a new relationship with someone from your office. The two of you decide on a romantic getaway in scenic Tasmania, no doubt to study the plight of the Tassie Devil. Your new squeeze posts lovely images of your trip on her Facebook page. All her mates are chuffed for her.

Trouble is you are a federal government minister and one of those images turns up on the front page of The Australian, years later, to highlight the hypocrisy of your indignation at another parliamentarian’s profligacy with the public purse in taking unnecessary helicopter rides. Come on down Tony Burke.

The rule here is just as important for business leaders as it is for politicians: If you are in a position of power and in the public eye (even if it is a limited industry specific public) you need to carefully consider your need for a Facebook or Twitter, or other social media presence, and what you post.

We have lost count of the number of careers ruined by an undisciplined Tweet or Facebook faux pas.

If you are a captain of industry, a community leader, politician or media personality or even if you’re just in a career that requires a degree of social sensitivity, not only should your social media presence be very circumspect but those of your significant others should be as well.

I’m looking at you Eddie McGuire, Mark Latham, Anthony Wiener, PR exec who tweeted that she hoped she did not get AIDS in Africa, “…no wait… I’m white”

In today’s world the personal can also rapidly impact on the collective and corporate. Think of the young KFC staff who thought it would be funny to post pictures of themselves bathing in the chicken fryers they were cleaning out. If the CEO needs to be social media savvy then most certainly there is a need for a staff social media policy in any organisation with a public interface.

Now we come to brands, corporations and government bodies on social media.

Even trickier.

A recent episode of the ABC satire Utopia featured an exchange that holds more truth than most would credit.

When talking about launching a major new road tunnel project the group discussed choosing a name for the tunnel-boring machine. When asked why a tunnel-boring machine needed a name the straight-faced answer was “for its Facebook page”. One can only imagine the value of such a Facebook page and the fans that ‘Churro’ (that’s the name they chose, because the machine came from Spain) would attract.

While the Utopia gag illustrates a comical waste of time and effort on social media. There are myriad examples where unnecessary, inappropriate and/or poorly timed and ill-thought-through social media presence has backfired, spectacularly.


Here are some examples:

Qantas brilliantly timed a participatory twitter campaign #QantasLuxury with the grounding of their fleet due to an industrial dispute. Result;

#QantasLuxury Flights that leave on schedule because Management doesn’t arbitrarily shut down the airline


#qantasluxury is the dream world Alan Joyce lives in where all the feedback to the Qantas action has been positive.

Thousands of tweets on everything from late flights to poor inflight food continued for the four days of the campaign.


LG tried to make fun of Apple’s perceived issue with early iPhone 6 units allegedly bending at #bendgate by tweeting from the LG France account that “Our smartphones don’t bend, they are naturally curved ;).The only problem, the Tweet was sent from an iPhone.

To celebrate July 4, USA cotton clothing purveyor American Apparel used its tumblr page to post a picture of what they thought was a firework, that was actually space shuttle Challenger exploding. After receiving lots of negative feedback the company apologised, saying that the social media manager was born after the Challenger disaster and didn’t realize what the picture was.


All of the above could have been easily avoided by ensuing appropriate disciplines were in place to check and double check social media interactions. Not to mention to interrogate what value the proposed engagement against the possible risk. In other words; what could possibly go wrong?

Now back to the 14 year old.

She and her fellow digital natives may feel that social media is only for them but the fact is everyone had bought-in, if only in a small way. The lesson her school, not to mention her parents, keep reinforcing is that once it’s out there it’s out there, forever! And forever is not just the next 6 months.

If you need guidance through the social media maze, a corporate social media policy or just a fresh set of external eyes ICG has built a thorough understanding of social media value, opportunity and risk and can advise on appropriate strategies.


Social Media – To be, or not to be? A case study.

By Angus Nicholls

The reports that were published last week regarding a social media attack by anti-Halal groups on the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company (FMYC) started me thinking. Do all companies need a social media presence? The next thought was what other actions, rather than dropping Halal certification (and, as a consequence, a $50,000 contract with Emirates), could have been pursued?

With regard to a social media presence, my opinion is that not every company needs to be there. I accept that this is probably an unpopular stance amongst most communication practitioners on the basis of being “left-behind.” However, my position is informed by the simple proposition of whether social media is tangibly contributing to your business, rather than just following the herd.

Given that forward planning is an essential element of business, the key questions that I would use to assess whether to establish and/or maintain a presence on social media are:

  • Does the business require social media to engage and interact with our customer base (understanding your customer demographics is essential to accurately answering this question)?
  • Is our presence generating and/or underpinning sales?
  • Is social media contributing to the development of our brand?
  • Do we have the resources to keep our presence up-to-date, monitored, and interactive?

In short: Is social media directly relevant to our activities?

I would further argue that unless there is a specific strategy in place for the use of social media that there are two particular categories that it does not sit comfortably with: Small businesses with a tight resource base (human and financial), and perishable products. That is not to say that businesses in these spheres should not have an online presence.

From my reading of the reporting on FMYC it looks as if they suffered the perfect storm: Some unreasonable online zealots attacking their business pursuing an unrelated agenda; the company adopting a course of action to placate their detractors (it would seem as a symptom of not having the resources available to comfortably manage the issue); losing a contract for a product that generally does not require Halal certification by most Muslims; and suffering yet more opprobrium for backing down in the face of the attack that the business had endured.

In line with our philosophical position that if you are going to commentate, it is always important to make practical and constructive contributions in parallel. So what would have we recommended to a client in this situation.

  1. Do not panic.
  2. Decide a course of action. We would have recommended holding the business’ position, and explaining why that was the right thing to do based on facts and the values of the business.
  3. Develop a standard online response (for use across all online platforms).
  4. Establish a set of talking points for telephone enquiries, importantly including a polite way to exit the conversation so as not to waste excessive time.
  5. Alerting key customers (i.e. Emirates) to the situation and explaining the course of action that had been decided upon, and seeking their support and third party endorsement.
  6. Develop and release a statement to the media outlining the issue and FMYC response, as well as the rationale justifying the response.
  7. Establishing a monitoring regime, escalation/de-escalation triggers, as well as defined escalation/de-escalation actions.

I am the first to admit that it is always much easier to have an opinion in retrospect, however the core element to any form of great communication is exceptional planning. That is what we here at ICG/RMA do.

Furthermore, I hope that other Australian businesses either do not have to endure the online thuggery that FMYC have recently had to (sadly I suspect that this is a forlorn hope given how courageous anonymous online operators seem to be); or that they are at least prepared to protect their values and operations in the face of any unreasonable attack that may be launched against them.

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