Social Media Complicates Ebola Crisis Communications
By Gerard Braud
[ If you’ve come to read this crisis communications post via a link by Agnes, please read my full response and rebuttal to her via this blog update. ]
A glance at the Emory Healthcare Facebook page magnifies the complexities of crisis communications in the age of social media. I’m not a huge fan of social media in a crisis. What I see playing out on Emory’s Facebook page reconfirms my dislike of social media as a crisis communications channel. As Emory University Hospital tries to save the lives of two health professionals affected with the Ebola Virus, some people hail them as heroes. Others accuse them of jeopardizing the health of everyone in the United States and accusing Emory of doing this as a publicity stunt. Yesterday I wrote about Donald Trump’s Twitter attack on Emory.
If your business or company is in a high profile crisis, the traffic to and the comments on your Facebook page increase. The way Facebook is structured, each time a person adds a comment, good or bad, that Facebook page goes to the top of the newsfeed for everyone who follows the page.
This creates a constant battle of opinions, good and bad, right and wrong, sane and insane.
When Chobani had their yogurt recall in 2013, I warned their social media team to stop trying to fight the crisis on social media. For every positive post from a customer or the company, there were dozens of negative posts.
My best crisis communications advice is to post your primary message on your website and share that with the mainstream media. Next, e-mail the link to all of your employees. After that, e-mail the link to other stakeholders. These are the core people who need to know your message.
If you post the link to social media, avoid comments such as, “We appreciate your support and understanding.” Such remarks encourage negative comments from the cynics who don’t understand your actions and who don’t support you.
In a crisis, people can talk about you on your social media site and they can talk about you via hashtags on other sites. Given a choice, I’d rather not have a history of negative comments on my own social media site. You may find you are better off letting people vent with hashtags on other sites rather than being angry on your social media site. No option, such as this, is set in stone, but it must be considered as an option as a crisis unfolds and bleeds into social media.
Sometimes tried and true beats shiny and new. Sometimes in a crisis, you may find that it is in your best interest to rely on conventional crisis communications tools. It may be better to take your social media sites down completely until the crisis is over. Failing to consider this as a possibility is a fatal flaw. Furthermore, you may get orders from the CEO to take the site down. What then?
I trust that if your core audience needs information, they are smart enough to find it on your primary website. Don’t be distracted from your core audience and crisis response because your are fighting social media trolls. This is especially true for those of you who are a public relations team of one.
It is difficult to Tweet your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to Facebook post your way out of a crisis. It is difficult to get in an online shouting match with idiots.