3 Step Social Media Crisis Litmus Test

When critics use social networks to focus negative attention on a company, brand, product or service, social media pundits call them social media horror stories

But before you assume that what you’ve got is an actual, bona fide social media horror story, use this litmus test for gaging the severity of an online crisis

What Are they Criticizing?
Outspoken criticism on Twitter is not, necessarily, a social media crisis. What are they criticizing exactly? Is it product performance or something else? The Motrin ads which offended a few, vocal moms and dads in 2008 got huge media attention. Social Media pundits lined up with case studies cataloging what they called the Motrin Moms social media horror story. But sales and the company’s stock performance was unaffected. Before you assume you have a crisis on your hands, ask yourself whether or not the criticism impacts the actual performance.

Are You Guilty by Omission?
Nothing gets under the skin of free speech activists more than a company that is trying to hide something. The reason people support such a controversial project like Wikileaks is because they believe sunlight is the best disinfectant. If your social media horror story is the result of a perceived leak, unless you acknowledge the problem, you may have a real crisis on your hands. But if your perceived crisis result of an errant tweet by a misguidedemployee, a sincere apology my be good enough. But don’t over react. Everyone makes mistakes.

Mountains and Mole Hills
Mistakes are part of innovation. Trial and error are the mothers of invention. You cannot innovate unless you’re willing to fail. Social business is innovative. So unless you’re willing to be tolerant of your own mistakes, as well as the mistakes of others, you’re not supporting innovation.

If your social media crisis is real, there’s plenty you can do, but only if you’re aware. So monitor social networks and respond quickly. And make sure your employees have social media training accessible so they know not just how to use social media, but how to use it responsibly for business. Social media policies alone are not enough. People need formal training on those policies as well.

I’ll be discussing Social Media Horror Stories with Marla Schulman @DvinMsM , Jen Mathews, @TopTierMedia and Cynthia Kahn, @cynthiakahn on a panel organized by Social Media Club L.A. next Tuesday at 6:30PM at The HubLA.

How do you judge what constitutes a social media crisis? What aspects of online crisis communications management are most important? If I use your comment in the panel discussion, I promise full attribution.