No one will wait for you to catch up in a crisis

How fast is social media? Faster than you. Especially faster if you or your organization faces a crisis or issue that threatens your reputation.

Consider a situation involving a school in Westfield, New York, from late last year. Here’s the first paragraph of a story from the Westfield Republican:

“Parents need to realize that we will never be able to notify them of an incident before it hits social media,” Ripley Central School Board President Robert Bentley said at the board’s regular meeting on Dec. 14.

The incident involved a minor school bus mishap with no injuries. What jumps out is the school board president’s brutal honesty in acknowledging a reality of these times: The people you care about the most are more likely than ever to find out something about you — especially if it’s bad — via Facebook, Twitter or some other social media outlet before you can tell them.

Now do you think it’s important to have a strategy and plan for how you’re going to communicate on social media when the bad thing inevitably happens?

Ken Trump’s job at Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services is school security, planning for school emergencies, school crisis consulting and more. A nationally known speaker on this topic, Trump feels the school officials’ pain.

“Social media presents today’s school administrators with one of the greatest challenges they face in their leadership roles,” Trump says. “Rumors, misinformation, fake news, school-community politics and critical incidents can all play out in social media.”

The old formula applies in the new social media age: Bad news travels fastest.

Schools may be in a particularly vulnerable position on social media given the investment and interest parents and students have, the many challenges schools face and the overwhelming presence of social media among students. But social media is now front and center for virtually every type of crisis — especially those involving businesses.

However, the fundamentals of effective crisis management still apply: Plan before the crisis hits.
Here are some of basic social media guidelines to keep in mind:

■  Know where your audience lives — Are the people who care most about your organization more likely to be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your website or all of the above? You can’t get to your key stakeholders during a crisis if you don’t know where they are.

■  Secure your accounts — Make sure your social media accounts aren’t subject to being hacked or hijacked.

■  Establish social media guidelines — Do your employees understand expectations about what to say and when to say it on your Facebook pages and Twitter feeds? And what about their personal social media outlets?

■ Build a following, promote interaction  — If your social media followers trust you before the crisis, it’s a lot more likely they’ll trust you during it.

Social media can be a tremendous asset in building and protecting your reputation. But you must understand it and embrace it. Or take your chances.

Thomas Fladung is Vice President at Hennes Communications