Don’t fear new media – it’s a port in a storm

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Here’s a conundrum: It takes decades of front-line PR experience to become the “go-to” pro in a crisis. But those with the most experience are often the same people who say they have no use for, or interest in, “new media.”

That’s too bad. Rather than sneering and fearing social media, we should use it as an invaluable tool to help control the message about situations threatening to spiral out of control.

Even if you have younger staff members who specialize in new media and social networking, you must personally understand their potential in order to deploy them effectively, especially in a crisis.

Here are 10 ways new media can make you a better crisis communicator.

1. Kick the tires

Start playing with new media; you can’t break it! Nose around, read other people’s posts, follow an ongoing crisis that’s playing out on social networking sites. Get a voyeuristic look at how it’s being used and abused. Learn from the triumphs and mistakes of others.

2. Get out there

The more active and involved your organization is in updating your own website and building positive relationships on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, the more successful you’ll be in using these tools to influence stakeholders in a crisis.

3. Take control

With traditional media, you’re at the mercy of reporters and editors who determine the “who, what, when, where and how” of your story and cherry-pick which quotes to use. Social networking allows you to go directly to your constituents rather than letting these “gatekeepers” dictate the timing and content of information they receive.

4.Enjoy new “eyes and ears”

Social media i helps you stay ahead of issues, negative perceptions and rumors before they become damaging news stories. Google Alerts, “Twilerts” and other digital listening posts, as well as blog search engines like Ice Rocket and Technorati can provide a “heads up” on chatter before it hits the press. Those early clues can mean the difference between a manageable crisis and a total disaster.

5. Get the “back story”

Before responding to negative, inaccurate or erroneous information, prowl around on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and chats to deepen your understanding of how the issue developed, who’s involved, and how to get to the sources.

6. Quicken your step

Every experienced expert in crisis communication knows that timing is everything when defusing a time bomb. New media allow you to reach out to key stakeholders immediately, and to continually update your progress in resolving the situation. That’s better than waiting helplessly to see how the newspapers and broadcast media play it out.

7. Buy time

Social media allows you to release an unpolished “holding statement” while you’re running your official response through committees, rewriting drafts and seeking multiple approvals. Acknowledging that you’re aware of the problem and taking action buys you more time to respond fully.

8. Be human

Once you understand the issue and who is involved, you have more empathy for any fear, sadness or vitriol exacerbating the issue — and you can better address these feelings in your response. Giving credence to others’ feelings takes the furor down a notch.People want to see a human response to a crisis, not an overproduced, academic or canned reply.

9. Keep updating

It is important to tell your story throughout the process, in order to continue defusing the issue. Providing updates about progress and solutions shows that you are paying attention and work is still being done behind the scenes.

10. Stay Alert

Continually update your website, releases, blog and new media posts to raise the prominence of positive “hits” from search engines. If necessary, work with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts to tag positive stories and diminish negative, unfair or inaccurate information.

All in all, new media is just another strategy in public relations, not a game changer. Fear not!

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