When Catastrophes “Go Viral”:
Protecting Your Company’s Reputation in a
Digital World

Billions of people are active on social media and constantly sharing news, content and information in real-time with friends, followers and even total strangers. The positive of real-time “news” is its propensity to inform the public of an event unfolding in which safety information can be disseminated broadly; however, in other instances, social media can present a public relations nightmare for individuals and companies. Plant explosions, product recalls, and other highly visible catastrophes can be instantaneously shared—unfiltered—around the world before a company even knows of the problem.

Incorrect information can be circulated and/or mistaken as an official response, causing a consumer panic and leading to further injury and false news reports that may hurt a company’s reputation in the long run. Long before a catastrophe strikes, it is critical for your company to identify its most dangerous and visible risks and to develop response plans in the event of a social media crisis. When a plan is in place, a company can communicate effectively and accurately with key stakeholders to ensure correct information is disseminated in a timely and orderly fashion – putting you and your company in control of the overall situation.

So where do you start? Consider taking the following three steps in response to a crisis through digital and social media:

news tickerDevelop a Detailed Social Media Plan – A plan delineating the policies your company will adhere to on social and digital media in the event of a crisis is a critical first step. The written plan should detail what information should be shared in case of an emergency, and which types of social media posts merit a response – not every post needs a reply. Be prepared to respond over whichever social platform is most appropriate for the situation, the audience, and the geographic region.

Prepare the Response – It may not be possible to prepare social media content for every potential catastrophe, but your company should still organize information ahead of time that can be released in the event of a crisis situation. Consider creating a non-public “dark page” on your company’s website, which can be made public when a crisis strikes. “Dark pages” can include information such as claims procedures, media contacts, and toll-free emergency phone numbers.

Monitor and Test – When your company is not in crisis mode, your focus should be on testing and monitoring. Understanding your company’s social media landscape and how your company is viewed by the social media public is vital in case you need to respond to a crisis, and helps ensure your messages have the desired impact. Your crisis plan should be thoroughly tested with drills and evaluations.

And remember, your company doesn’t have to carry the full weight of the planning process. Consider working with a risk management services provider that can help your company prepare before catastrophe strikes.

Predicting a catastrophe is next to impossible, but putting a plan in place ahead of time will help manage the repercussions. Preserving your company’s reputation is vital to its success after a highly-publicized crisis. By developing a detailed social media plan and preparing a response in advance, your company can respond when a catastrophe “goes viral.”

Greg Smith is Director of ESIS Catastrophe Services.

Categories: Business Continuity, General Risk
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