Timing, Honesty, & Location – Crisis Management on Social Media


As the coordinator of the undergraduate admission social media sites, crisis management is something that has been on my mind since I took over. Because of the very nature of college campuses, the potential for a crisis to occur is heightened. That is why I found the readings for this mini-module particularly interesting—to be honest I finished the module wishing we had more time to spend on crisis management.

The importance of timing was one of the first concepts I took from almost every article I read regarding crisis management. With the nature of social media it is no longer possible to simply allow things to blow over and release a statement a day or two later. As Sandra Duhe (2007) points out: “clear communication with publics during crises is a top priority, and handling both primary and secondary stakeholder interactions is a crucial step” (p. 259).

In Brian Stelter’s (2013) article on Justine Sacco’s firing from IAC, one of the biggest issues was that right after Sacco tweeted, she jumped on a plane for 12 hours—leaving her open for ridicule and unable to respond. The inability to defend (or delete) her post ultimately allowed it to fester to the point where she received, in Stelter’s (2013) own words, “trial by social media.” Similarly in the case of Domino’s Pizza’s crisis over the actions of their two employees, one of biggest issues was their lack of initial response. As a result it appeared as though the company was not aware of the crisis.

One of the most helpful resources I found in my own research was Josh Baer’s (2014) article on social media crisis management. In this article, Baer emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that a problem exists: “Your first response should always be ‘yes we realize something has happened’ even if you have ZERO answers. This will stem the tide of ‘hey company, did you know?’ messages” (Baer, 2014).  Additionally, it also occurred to me that by acknowledging that the problem exists, and emphasizing that you are working for a solution, it buys you time to come up with a strong message and formalized response.

Similarly, the importance of honesty in the early communication is essential to effectively calming the storm of criticism (Young, 2012). This idea brought me back to last module’s emphasis on the importance of authenticity and transparency on social media. As Duhe (2007) expressed, if you are willing to be transparent during regular everyday communication, you can build trust with stakeholders and your public (p. 71).

Maintaining that level of honesty and authenticity is equally important during a crisis situation. Providing information such as an authentic apology and crisis FAQ can help to provide information to stakeholders and publics alike (Baer, 2014). This is especially the case in online communication or social media. In most cases, people rely on traditional media for updates and facts, however, they turn to social media for insider information or comments from family and friends (Duhe, 2007, p. 263).

In that same light, it is also important to meet publics where they are (i.e. if crisis commentary erupts on a Facebook page, it is important to respond on Facebook). One of the biggest errors in Domino’s case was that they released a video on their corporate webpage, whereas their crisis erupted on YouTube. As a result, the volume of YouTube viewers on the offending video continued, but Domino’s response went seemingly unnoticed (Young, 2012). Taking time to meet publics half way, can ultimately help to successfully diffuse a situation—this concept is described by Baer (2014) as fighting “Social media fire with social media water.” Keeping in mind these three key points—timing, honesty, and location—can serve as a strong base for building a crisis communication plan.


Works Cited:

Baer, J. (2014). Don’t Be Scared Be Prepared – How to Manage a Social Media Crisis. Convince and Convert. Retrieved on October 24, 2014 from http://www.convinceandconvert.com/social-media-strategy/dont-be-scared-be-prepared-how-to-manage-a-social-media-crisis/#comment-676005210

Duhe, S. C. (2007). New media and public relations. New York: Peter Lang. 257-267.

Stelter, B. (2013, December 21). Company parts ways with PR exec after AIDS in Africa Tweet – CNN.com. Retrieved on October, 23, 2014 from http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/21/us/sacco-offensive-tweet/index.html

Young, C.L. & Flowers, A. (2012). Fight viral with viral: A case study of Domino’s Pizza’s crisis communication strategies. Case Studies in Strategic Communication. 1(6). Retrieved on October 23, 2014 from http://cssc.uscannenberg.org/cases/v1/v1art6/




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