What a teenage vampire love story can teach crisis managers about Twitter

At a recent event I was challenged over my views on Twitter – specifically as to whether or not it’s really all that big of an issue in the context of your average crisis manager’s day in the office.

Before we get too carried away with this (perceived) blasphemy, in principle I agree with the challenge on the following points:

  • Not everyone’s on Twitter
  • If you’re not following a particular Twitterer (e.g. Ashton Kutcher) then you’re not really all that likely to see their tweets (leaving aside for the minute the phenomenon of re-tweeting)
  • The “push” mentality of most Twitterers (yours truly included) means many tweets are practically spam, although working this out for yourself means the quality of your tweets should improve over time
  • With some notable exceptions such as the Iranian elections (or here for The Washington Post’s coverage of the Twitter phenomenon), most trending topics lack apparent relevance for big corporations (the number of companies selling tickets to see New Moon, for example, is far lower than the audience interest in buying them)

However, on reflection, the phenomenon that is Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga actually makes the opposite point. Like Harry Potter and The Davinci Code before it, copies of Twilight and its sequels can be seen on trains, planes and around the Hill & Knowlton offices, on our colleagues’ desks. And that’s largely the point.

As the Current Twitter trends column from independent.co.uk highlights, the topics that trend on Twitter are in fact the things that a critical mass of people actually care about. In real life.

And this is where I think many of us have, until recently, missed the point with Twitter and other social media.

There’s something of a bias towards believing that if something’s covered in the news media then it’s objectively important. It must be, because it’s “the news”, as opposed to a published stream of consciousness, right? So it then begs the question as to why a respected newspaper would go to the trouble of republishing a list of things that people are tweeting about.

It’s all about dealing with real people, whose actual lives exist offline. No-one lives on the internet. You can’t eat it, you can’t breathe it, it doesn’t keep you warm. Social media is populated by real people, with concerns that are as real to them as the need to eat and breathe.

The role then for crisis managers, is to recognise that grievances, complaints, valid concerns and, dare I say it, helpful tip-offs, are all getting aired in pubic, around the clock, around the world, and on the internet. Good crisis management requires us to be alert to that scenario, and do something about it (which is why the Issues & Crisis team here at Hill & Knowlton works closely with our counterparts in the Digital team to make sure we’re continually learning about how to do this better).

As I’ve said in a previous post, social media should be considered on its merits for every individual case. However, understanding the premise of the beast is no longer optional for any crisis manager.

As an aside (although somewhat related from the perspective of corporations using social media as a communication channel), check out this post from the Brand Twist blog on why you don’t need a social media strategy…

Also, follow Hill & Knowlton UK’s Twitter feed here.

Disclosure: this is an edited version of a post I made last week. While some of the examples have been updated, the basic thrust of the post hasn’t.

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