I read a blog post the other day that highlighted an incident at a university where pep band members had yelled a racial slur at an opponent during a basketball game. The university heard about the incident via social media and there was some anxiety that people were passing judgment before the school had a chance to respond. They feared the furor wouldn't die down until after the students were disciplined so they took care of the matter swiftly.
My concern wasn't so much with the university as with the blogger who called the event "a disaster" and commented that if not dealt with, the event "could have damaged the university's reputation for years to come." That's when the flags went up. This incident was not a disaster. What would we call Hurricane Katrina then? And, unless the band members' behavior is completely ignored or even praised by university administrators, the incident would not damage the reputation of the university for years to come. The incident didn't warrant that kind of public response.
A social media response triage is an "if this, then that" flow chart housed in your social media policy that will help you make wise decisions on whether an event is escalating to the point where it needs a response. Here are several good examples of response flow charts found by DaLi Social. Social Fish also published a helpful piece here that has a good visual example and ten tips on putting one together.
Why do you need a social media triage plan? Here are three good reasons.
1. Every incident doesn't need a response.
The real-time power of social media to create news can cause organizational hysteria. We need to remember that news breaking in social media doesn't create a disaster--the weight of the event creates a disaster. A devastating crisis of morality and deception, such as the one we witnessed at Penn State, will carry more weight than five band members displaying hurtful, ignorant behavior at a basketball game. Organizations shouldn't start wringing their hands because bad news breaks on social media before they can respond.
Before you pull the trigger on responding to a negative comment or story in social media, make sure a response is called for. In this interview with Andrew Gossen, Senior Director of New Media Strategy for Cornell University, he describes an incident where the university decided not to respond to a negative story about a student organization, and the chatter eventually died down without their participation.
If you have invested time in building an engaged community of advocates in social media, often they will quell the buzz for you.
2. Every incident needs an appropriate response. Organizations can pour gas on a fire by overreacting to events that just need a simple apology or correction of misinformation. It's important to have a social media triage plan in place to distance yourself from the emotional stress of being slammed in social media. The plan will take the emotional element out of the decision.
3. Any incident can become a crisis if it goes unnoticed or is ignored. Are you listening in the social media space? Do you have a social media monitoring system that can alert you to a brewing situation and get you out ahead of the story? A good listening strategy is a partner to triage. Both should be part of your social media policy.
Social media triage can give any organization the confidence that negative news that breaks in social media can be dealt with swiftly and appropriately. You don't need to be afraid of social media taking down your organization if you are prepared. Fail to plan, plan to fail.