Social Media Crisis Management – Can I ignore it?

Social media has drastically changed the landscape of crisis management. Gone were the days where crises were made known to public by only by major shareholders of traditional media. With search engine powerhouse like Google, Bing and Yahoo!, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and social bookmarking sites like Delicious, the only way not to get attention is to make yourself insignificant or inexistence.

Yes, by this I also mean that even if your company is neither insignificant nor inexistence but it just doesn’t own any social media, social media is happening to your company whether you want it or not.

The internet is a giant public library where users have the ease of discovering and spreading information around. What does this mean to companies facing a crisis? It means that when information released is not contained and acted upon quickly, it can spiral out of control. As the good old English proverb goes, bad news travels fast. Companies simply cannot ignore social media’s ability to start or aggravate a crisis and they need to be able to harness it when managing crises.

Let me illustrate the power of social media through a case study. Take a look at these videos and their viewership statistics.

First Installment
Posted: 6 July 2009
Viewership: 150,000 views in the first day. Currently has over 9 million views

Second Installment
Posted: 17 August 2009
Viewership: Over a million views

Third Installment
Posted: 1 March 2010

Viewership: Over 235,091 views

(On a completely irrelevant note, don’t you find these mini embedded videos look cute! :D)

Why were these videos created?
Dave Carroll, the musician behind the videos, flew United Airlines with his band and his guitar ended up broken at the hand of employees. After 9 months, many unhelpful employees and no compensation, Carroll gave up on getting reimbursement and responded to this incident by creating a total of 3 music videos about the experience. It was only when his videos became a big hit that United offered compensation. Read more about his story here.

Why are Carroll’s videos so widespread?
One of the key points on why some videos can go viral quickly lies in how much people can relate to it. The ability to relate also means that the material strikes an emotional cord in people, and the stringer the emotion a material arouses, the higher the possibility of the material being passed on. This point is actually studies by psychologists which I am going to research more from the social scienfic field to explain why some videos go viral. A topic for another time!

For Carroll’s case, his experience resonates with many similar experiences of luggage mishandling and the resultant irresponsibility, as well as the inefficiency of getting to a right service staff and inflexible protocols. A lot of us have been through this, and a lot of us hated it. Also, he has chosen to go against a big company and make a light-hearted music video out of it that is easy to consume and to pass on.

The odds were working in favour of him of his videos to possess high virality, and so did the number of views proved the point.

Why does it matter?
A one-off unpleasant incident with a customer used to end with a complain letter, which you can ignore. However, with social media, Carroll’s first video resulted in a fall of 10% in United Airline’s stock price, costing stockholders about $180 million in value 4 days after the video is uploaded, as reported by The Times.

You don’t need me to tell you if you can or cannot ignore social media in relation to crisis management.

Now now, with the premise set, the net few posts in the series will look at how companies use social media to manage their crisis. Check back this space soon!


Elisha Tan is the Founder of TechLadies. TechLadies is a community for women in Asia to connect, learn, and advance as programmers in the tech industry. Elisha is also the Developer Programs Regional Lead for Asia Pacific at Facebook.


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