3 case studies in social media crisis management

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Social media tools have already proven their value to big business, not only to promote the brand, products, or services of some the world's biggest corporations, but also as a powerful tool in your toolbox when dealing with a crisis.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Domino's Pizza, and most recently Toyota, have all undergone massive challenges in the last year and have all used social media tools as key components in their crisis management strategy.

We're all watching social media evolve, and while it's come a long way and we read success stories every day, social media as an effective marketing channel is still in its adolescence. Most large corporations are just taking their first steps and starting to broaden their communication strategy to include social media efforts, while other companies are faced with an urgency to get out there and get out there quickly.

Faced with a crisis, many large corporations, and even the government, have found social media tools to be the perfect way to connect with their audience and communicate quickly and regularly.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In April 2009, a new strain of the H1N1 influenza virus was detected in Veracruz, Mexico. The "Swine Flu" pandemic quickly became top of everyone's mind as buzz built and concern spread in the media, social networks, and blogosphere. Unlike a specific brand scenario, say that of a soft drink or brand of aspirin, this crisis involved everyone. The CDC responded with a full arsenal of social media communications strategies and tactics. 

It was critical that the CDC moved quickly and led the conversation. While its response was quick, the public had been quicker. In time zones across the globe, concerned communities had already started to talk. The CDC began by giving the public the information they needed to make sense of all the noise. By equipping the public with clear and consistent information, it started an approach that remained consistent throughout -- engage, empower, and equip every concerned individual with the tools necessary to share the right message, speak on behalf of the CDC, and help calm the masses. 

By giving the public the tools and information to get their facts straight, everyone could be on the same page, and useful education and prevention measures could be communicated.

The next step was truly masterful. The CDC wielded social media tools like a maestro waves his baton, and instead of musicians being conducted, it was Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, blogs, YouTube, mobile, email updates, e-cards, e-games, podcasts, widgets, and even a dedicated online channel called CDC TV -- all playing together to harmoniously convey the CDC's message to the public.

The CDC raised the bar for how to incorporate social media tools into corporate crisis management plans. But there was one thing it did particularly well: It quickly recognized the target was global and that it literally had to target everyone. 

Recognizing the difficulty in reaching everyone individually, the CDC focused on taking the right message to the masses and then giving them the tools they would need to easily take the right message to their individual communities. It correctly leveraged the very nature of social media for the good of all people.

Lessons Learned: The CDC
Don't be afraid to break out the arsenal. Utilize the breadth of social media options to increase touch points. The CDC pulled out all the stops and activated an army of social media tools to educate, comfort, and direct the masses. Much of the content worked seamlessly across various communication vehicles, while some pieces worked better through specific delivery methods. The breadth and depth of the CDC social media response shows it was well informed, engaged, and knew what to do.

Empower your community to work on your behalf. Empowering a community requires you to equip them as well. Give them more than the message; give them the tools to allow them to share that message easily. The CDC designed and built tools and delivered them with instructions on how to embed certain widgets onto a website. Bloggers and/or partner organizations covering the cause could easily acquire content and post accurate information. By doing this, the CDC leveraged the promise of social media and a global network of communities.

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Comments

Jhinuk Chowdhury
Jhinuk Chowdhury April 6, 2010 at 1:40 AM

Nice article

Steve Lubetkin
Steve Lubetkin April 2, 2010 at 8:47 AM

For another perspective on social media and crisis management, visit www.professionalpodcasts.com for a podcast, newspaper column, and radio news wrapper short report on the recent NetTuesday presentation in Philadelphia, where researchers described the ways social media tools aided first responders in the Haiti and Chile earthquakes.

Steve "@PodcastSteve" Lubetkin
Managing Partner, Professional Podcasts LLC
@PodcastSteve on Twitter
steve@professionalpodcasts.com