IMAGE: Ufuk Uyanik — 123RF

Facebook, Twitter and crisis communication

One of the many curious aspects of the successive communication crises that Facebook has faced in recent months over its role in the US presidential elections and in spreading false news has been its use of Twitter to explain itself.

Obviously, one of the reasons the world’s leading social network has used Twitter so much is that in many cases, it is simply responding to allegations originally made on Twitter and its answers would make little sense somewhere else. But the real reason, is that a decade after its launch, despite doubts about its economic viability and its problems with harassment, abuse and cyberbullying, Twitter is still the place people go to find out what is happening in real time.

This immediacy makes Twitter the perfect tool for crisis communication, to the point that Facebook itself is forced to use it, although it’s not official policy: Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg have not use their Twitter accounts since 2012 and 2013 respectively. But the facts speak for themselves: in a crisis, Twitter is the place to be.

When there’s a corporate crisis, companies are starting to understand that if they want to appear minimally rational and in step with the times, they will need to set up a team that is permanently connected to the blue bird, because that’s the place where everyone will go to find out what’s happening when something goes wrong. Companies that clam up and simply issue classic press releases to the media will learn that by the time their statement has been published, most of the reputational damage will already be done, and that they can only stand on the sidelines while others discuss it. Everything traditional communication managers thought they knew about time control, once fundamental in all crisis management, has been blown away: the only time control possible is to respond quickly to anyone who says something worthy of consideration and to be part of the conversation on Twitter about the problem. Otherwise you’re going to look bad. The situation will escalate and you’ll face the risk that the situation will go viral, which is what Twitter does best.

Obviously, joining in the fray on Twitter at a time of crisis requires skill and experience. A company is going to need people who can hold their nerves, avoid issuing clumsy answers or making insensitive comments and who have a firm grasp of analytics and quantification. The logical thing is to already have such a team in place, staffed by community managers who know the company well, who can pull together the appropriate resources quickly, and who have already learned from countless smaller crises ranging from an unsatisfied customer to an influencer who says something awkward. Those are the miles that must be walked to prepare for something we can never fully be prepared for. It’s a dirty job…

Twitter has its problems, but most who use it usually agree on one thing: if it did not exist, it would have to be invented. And in the case of crisis communication, this is even more the case.

(En español, aquí)