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Protecting the reputation against the clock

July 11, 2013 by Sophie Hunt

Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying the power, or speed, of social media, especially when it comes to crisis management.

Within hours of Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, one misguided sports fan found herself at the centre of a major Twitter storm after tweeting that Andy was generously donating his tournament winnings to the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. Unfortunately, she had been given false information and the subsequent torrent of abuse she experienced once the real facts came to light on Twitter courtesy of the Daily Telegraph’s chief sports writer, should be a salient lesson to us all.

Without doubt, if you are using social media to get your message across, you need to ensure the content you’re sharing is accurate.

As the example above shows, comments can spread like wildfire if they capture people’s imagination. That’s why it is so important to play by the rules and recognise that there is a responsibility that comes with using social media.

Whilst speed is always of the essence, particularly in a crisis situation, businesses should never communicate information that they can’t 100 per cent verify. This can be challenging, especially when you consider how social media has revolutionised the way that crises break, posing greater challenges in terms of transparency and setting new benchmarks for speed of response.

Last Sunday, a Boeing 777 operated by Asiana Airlines crashed at San Francisco airport tragically killing two passengers and seriously injuring 48 others.  Shortly after, images and footage of the wreckage began appearing on social media as passengers shared their experiences with loved ones and the world’s media. The operator responded quickly, posting updates on a micro site and putting a spokesperson up for interview, but despite their best efforts, the social media horse had already bolted.

Indeed, the ability to post unauthorised content in real time is forcing companies to react ever more quickly. Faced with a barrage of uncontrolled information, businesses need to move fast to redress the communications balance and position themselves, rather than their observers, as the credible source of information.

However, a timely response should never be at the expense of accuracy, nor should it lead to speculation. In a world where a hard-earned reputation can be shattered in a matter of minutes, better an accurate, considered response than a fast, inaccurate one.

For further thoughts on the San Francisco air crash and how organisations should respond in the aftermath of a crisis, please see Insignia’s comments which appeared in a recent article  on ragan.com.

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