Is Your Company Social Media Ready for a PR Crisis?

  |  November 14, 2011   |  Comments

Rick Perry's social media lesson for businesses.

Rick Perry's Michigan presidential debate "oops" gaffe is a classic example of the need for social media and PR crisis management and damage control. Perry's teachable moment underscores that businesses must be ready to respond at a moment's notice to issues in today's social media landscape, especially when your oops moment goes viral in less than 24 hours without any way to control it. Is your firm social media ready for an issue or crisis affecting you or one of your competitors?

While Perry kidded about how he stepped in it, the real problem was his team's slow response. Once Perry made the gaffe, his team should have quickly drafted a response for his approval in time to make the 11:00 p.m. news cycle that was sure to run the gaffe footage, as well as having a plan ready for his website. Instead, his response waited until the morning news and it took five hours to change his website.


What Does Your Firm Need to Do to Be Prepared for a Social Media Crisis?

In today's social media savvy 24/7 news cycle, you can't wait for a problem or emergency to test your firm's crisis management and preparedness. Here are three steps you need whether your business is active in social media or not.

  • Monitor the social media landscape. Perry's team was focused on watching the debate so this should have been a no-brainer. When it comes to businesses, you must track the conversation around your company, products, brands, and executives. Additionally, assess what's being said about your competitors and track relevant keywords since a competitor's problem can easily become yours. To this end, use the best monitoring tools available for your budget. If your products are relatively new, use existing category terms as a proxy.
  • Have a real-time crisis management plan outlining your firm's response. Regardless of the size of the issue, your organization must be ready to react appropriately since, unlike the Perry campaign where everyone was watching, you're most likely to have a problem at night, over the weekend, or on a public holiday. You need the following:
    • Who gets contacted in the case of a social media or PR crisis? This means your first line of response must include representatives from your marketing, PR, and communications teams, as well as every customer-facing department such as senior management, social media staff, sales, retail staff, customer service, and investor relations. Don't overlook legal, regulatory, and/or HR staff because you'll need their input regarding what you can say and do. This happened to JetBlue when Steward Steve Slater used the inflatable chute to exit one of the company's planes. Have the office and mobile phone numbers of all key people as well as those for their backups. Further, have a firm specializing in crisis management on retainer that you can call if it's a significant issue.
    • Who needs to approve communications and/or actions? Once the crisis hits, your team has to react quickly and effectively. It's not the time to figure out who'll approve what and who gets called. This must be mapped out and run through at least every six months because your issue is most likely to happen when no one's around.
    • Who will execute the activities and/or communications? In addition to notifying appropriate personnel and obtaining approval to act, you need a team ready to execute the plan. To ensure you're covered, include your social media team to interact with consumers, your creative and content teams to develop any content required, and your technology team to make any changes and ensure your site remains up if the traffic spikes. If this staff isn't part of your employee base, how do you contact them?
  • Build your audience before you need them. Have an established base you can communicate with. A PR crisis isn't the time to start building a following on Twitter or Facebook. Include the following:
    • Third-party media. This refers to the breadth of media, traditional television and print, as well as online outlets. Does your PR or marketing team have connections to get airtime or space on important media in your field? If you need supporting advertising, is your marketing team prepared to respond with the appropriate resources?
    • Owned media. Also known as internal media, this includes your website, email list, blog, and other content venues you control. At a minimum, have a response on your website and/or blog. To the extent possible, get your positive message out. Don't forget you may need extra bandwidth to handle the additional traffic that a crisis can create.
    • Social media. This encompasses the breadth of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, blogs, and YouTube. In most of these cases, you need to have a following before the crisis hits. Additionally, you need a content strategy so you're not just posting defensive comments. Do you have personnel trained in how to engage on social media platforms as representatives of your firm? A great example is how Scott Monty worked behind the scenes to help Ford effectively contain a PR problem. (For full details, check "The Ranger Station Fire.")

The bottom line is that when it comes to social media and PR crises, every business needs to be prepared to react quickly with the appropriate personnel and resources, even if you don't have a social media marketing strategy in place.

What would you have recommended and why if you were working for the Rick Perry campaign? Do you have any other recommendations as to how companies can prepare for potential crises? Please include your comments below.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen



Heidi Cohen

Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital,, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.

Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.

Her blog,, was nominated as a finalist for Top Social Media Blog of 2012 by Social Media Examiner.

Heidi is also a popular speaker on current industry topics.

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