March 2, 2012
If you’ve ever been a part of an organization that has had what seemed to be a simple matter blow up into a nuclear holocaust of bad publicity, you might be interested in this missive. To state the obvious, social networks like Twitter and Facebook act as gasoline when there’s a spark of controversy. Just ask the Susan G. Komen foundation.
For reasons that are still not clear, on January 31, 2012, this squeaky clean, long-revered non-profit organization decided not to renew a grant to Planned Parenthood to fund breast exams. Since Komen’s stated mission is to find a cure for breast cancer and these screenings have proven to enhance that admirable endeavor, many supporters of the group – not to mention the millions of Planned Parenthood supporters – went through their own stages of grief, culminating in outrage. If you’ve ever worked for a non-profit organization, which relies on kindnesses (and money) of strangers to keep the doors open, you know that outrage is not something you want to encourage.
It took about as long as it takes for twenty million people to simultaneously update their Facebook page and type out 140 characters on Twitter for all hell to break loose. While this bonehead move was reverberating through the social networks and big Komen donors mysteriously decided to forgo their annual contributions, it was strangely quiet on the Komen social nets. One got the impression that the silence was the result of Twitter-lash – an updated version of whiplash.
In about a week, the adults at Komen had taken back over. The top executives with an anti-abortion agenda and questionable good sense were gone. Komen founder Nancy Brinker apologized and re-instituted the Planned Parenthood grant and college professors who teach communications students had a new case study entitled: “How to make a policy screw-up even worse!” And yes, you WILL be tested on this material.
Arguably, the Komen fiasco was so monumental that even a brilliant social network strategy would not have fixed the problem. However, most agree that the organization could have helped itself immeasurably with more input into the debate surrounding the firestorm.
So, what if your company or organization does something dumb and millions of people start saying tacky things about you on Facebook or raises such a ruckus on social networks that nobody wants to buy your pizza or plumbing supplies or cars? It’s probably a good idea to have a plan of action before the stuff hits the fan.
Here are some suggestions:
- Assume that someday controversy will happen and you should have a plan to deal with the social network posts that will surely follow.
- Assign someone who understands social networks to be responsible for responding to controversy within hours – not days – of the controversy breaking.
- Give this designated social network czar the power to do her job. This means equipping them with cellphone numbers that get answered 24/7 of the honchos who can respond to the chatter.
- Get a social network listening service to monitor everything – good and bad – that’s being served up on the nets about the organization.
- Be prepared to offer videos, infographics and other web-friendly media as to the real facts surrounding the controversy.
- Be very clear and honest in all communications. This way you never have to have to say you’re sorry…again.
When things are peachy, the megaphone of social networks is a great tool for spreading peace, love and understanding. However, when things go south, this fabulous megaphone can reversed and the noise hitting your organization can be deafening.
- Art Young, Client Development
Photo credit: Flickr user audreyjm529