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Crisis Communicator

by Randall Craig on December 1, 2010

Filed in: Blog, Communication, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Social Media, Strategy

Tagged as: , , ,

When someone sends a nastygram directly to you via email, it’s easy to deal with them directly: there’s just one person. But in the Social Media world, that nastygram gets broadcast everywhere. And when others start repeating, retweeting, and adding to the message, the problem escalates further.

Many organizations – and many individuals – have jumped on the Social Media bandwagon, but are woefully unprepared when something goes wrong. Are you?

Pre-empt: If you know that there is a problem, it is fairly certain that people will find out about it. By announcing and addressing it beforehand, you appear pro-active and customer-focused.

Ignore: This is the strategy that most organizations use, merely because they are ignorant of the conversations currently underway. After you have a monitoring process in place, then you can make an appropriate decision to ignore. The rationale for ignoring an issue is simple: why pour fuel on the fire? The troublemaker is likely hoping to make your response as much “the story” as the original issue.

Engage: In this strategy, you seek to open the conversation with the troublemaker and the wider social media community. While you may not be empowered to fix the situation, you may be able to demonstrate reasonableness, compassion, and understanding. Done properly, you will not only diffuse the situation, but also learn something important that can be fed back into your organization’s product development or service delivery processes.

Fight: Fighting can happen through aggressive engagement (the “flame war”), or it can happen through legal channels (eg threats), or it can happen by invoking the Social Media venue’s terms of service. The problem with the Fight strategy is that your Fight can quickly become the story, particularly if it fits the David and Goliath “insensitive big corporation” narrative. We recommend that this strategy only be used once the troublemaker crosses a line (eg libel), or other crisis techniques have proven unsatisfactory.

Solicit Support: You don’t need to do anything alone! Whenever a contentious issue arises, reach out to your supporters: generically through a tool such as Twitter, or directly by picking up the phone/writing an email. Your goal with this strategy is to ask your engaged community to advocate on your behalf. A third party endorsement (or rebuttal) is more powerful than anything that you can say yourself.

Of course, there are a number of other issues, including choosing a spokesperson, coordination with off-web messaging, etc, but these overall crisis strategies are a great way to frame your response.

This week’s action plan: While there may not be a crisis this week, becoming a crisis communicator happens well before the problem starts. In addition to the above five strategies, here is a sixth: create a crisis plan, so that when it eventually hits, you ‘ll be ready.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)



Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and

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