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Crisis and Social Media: How to Avoid Fuelling the Flame

By Alessandro Chiarmasso, Practice Leader Corporate, MSL Italia

The right assessment of the situation, message and messenger is key to managing, and not unduly suffering from, a single social media post during a crisis.

It is a well-known aphorism that reputation takes years to build and nurture but minutes to destroy. Every day countless corporate crises reconfirm this truism, exploding in both the real world and the virtual world of social networks, a space in which they are free to instantly spread worldwide.

Reputation has never been harder to manage and protect than in the new communications landscape. The fundamental change in communications is the power of the individual. Every person is an influencer because they have the platforms and audiences to express opinion, experiences, facts, knowledge and visions. Over the past few years, hordes of consultants, agencies and digital gurus have panicked organisations with their crazy case studies of stories with catastrophic outcomes… And they have been right to do so.

Their actions tions have combined to form an important awareness campaign that is gradually bringing about a new culture of prevention, listening and willingness to engage. A cultural revolution that started with the smartest multinationals, or those most at risk, and is also slowly seeping through the other elements of society: SMEs, institutions and people in the public eye.

However, this sense of anxiety and, at times, panic brought on by criticism or attacks launched on the social networks sometimes risks favouring an excessive reaction. Very often this is not only futile but can actually have a snowball effect, propagating a fire from a match that would have gone out on its own, as harmless as a bit of banter tossed back and forth at a bar.

So, how can we understand what and who can be truly critical and hold the potential to light a fire and fan its flames, so that we can prepare to react with decisiveness and reason? And, how can we do that in just a few minutes? Because minutes are crucial in a game like this.

When preparing for a crisis that may very well damage our reputation, we must have access to tools that allow us to rapidly assess the message and the messenger in line with a series of objective parameters that can quickly be identified.

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It is therefore key to divide the possible messengers, distinguishing between normal users and influencers, and to carefully map the latter by further classifying them into top-tier, medium and ordinary influencers, where “ordinary” also refers to users capable of influencing people’s opinion on the internet. This can be performed using a structured series of parameters defined in advance. Some of these can be standard, such as the average number of retweets of a twitter user, rather than the number of followers. Others can be defined based on the specific requirements of the company.

The decision whether to “pick up the gauntlet” must also definitely be made following a considered assessment of the situation and of each individual blow dealt through social media. For this reason, as well as setting up a system for classifying the messengers, it is also important to prepare another similar system, for evaluating the message itself and its negative potential, using a series of parameters that weigh up characteristics, such as its relevance (how directly does the issue relate to my company?), volume (how many people are talking about the topic?), the emotions it is capable of releasing, the speed at which it is spreading or the call to action.

If we assign a score to each of the parameters we have considered, both for the messenger and the message in question, we will obtain a total value that will rapidly enable us to calculate the level of threat posed, and the relative actions to take.

Given the severe time limitations that social media communication channels impose, this kind of considered assessment can make the difference when protecting brand reputation. It can also help to manage the various priorities that a critical situation imposes as effectively as possible, not only on the social networks.

Today, the “Social media threat assessment tool” is one of the tools included in a modern crisis management module, for all the companies in the energy sector and beyond. Together with the other procedures, it is designed to reduce the sense of inadequacy and loss of control induced by the occurrence of a crisis.

This article is a part of the September 2016 edition of MSLGROUP’s ON Energy Report – Navigating a Changing Energy Landscape. If you want to find out more about the work we do, or enquire as to how we might be able to help, don’t hesitate to contact Nick Bastin

Alessandro ChiarmassoAlessandro Chiarmasso joined MSLGROUP Italia’s Corporate Finance team in 2004 and is responsible for the communication activities on behalf of financial institutions, listed companies and asset management operators. Since 2011 he is an active member of MSLGROUP’s EMEA Energy team promoting the brand as a European thought leader in the field. @achiarmasso | alessandro.chiarmasso@mslgroup.com