Rethinking what qualifies as a social media crisis

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I finished reading Jay Baer and Amber Naslund’s excellent new book, “The Now Revolution: Seven Shifts to Make Your Business, Faster, Smarter and More Social”. It’s full of great, strategic advice that’s tool-agnostic, based on the assumption that the tools and platforms of the social Web will always evolve, but core principles to guide listening, engagement and measurement won’t change. In addition to covering the must-know case studies like Disgusting Dominos People and United Breaks Guitars, it also profiles some impressively responsive, lesser-known social media efforts from companies like Boingo, Moosejaw and ThinkGeek.

But the chapter that really got me thinking, “Build a Fire Extinguisher”, manages to cut through the hysteria and outline a realistic, pragmatic approach for identifying a brewing crisis online and escalating it up through an organization without magnifying its significance and worsening the situation. Baer and Naslund encourage us to evaluate whether a particular situation is likely to result in “decisive change”:

“If the conventional wisdom is just being amplified, it’s not a crisis. Nike is consistently accused by certain groups (often wrongfully) of engaging in less-than-ideal labor practices…but that doesn’t constitute a crisis for Nike, because it isn’t a decisive change from the established patterns of information and volume.”

Sometimes, companies wind up amplifying criticism from a longtime critic or adversary by treating it like a crisis–for example, with response from senior management–because they haven’t fully surveyed the landscape of discussion about their products and business practices and recognized that what’s happened is actually quite routine. It’s when those mentions reach a crescendo that escalation, perhaps including a senior-level response, is warranted and should happen quickly. But without consistently listening on the social Web, there’s no baseline to establish what constitutes a true emergency.

Two more books coming out this year I’m looking forward to reading and plan to review here: “The Business of Influence: Reframing Marketing and PR for the Digital Age” by Philip Sheldrake, and “Social Media Analytics: Effective Tools for Building, Interpreting and Using Metrics” by Marshall Sponder.

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