Gerald Baron, president of Agincourt Strategies and founder of the PIER Systems, put together an excellent video synopsis of how the news cycle operated before the advent of social media. Here was the process:
Event occurs -> Information gathered by Public Information Officer -> Information given to media -> Media gives information to public
This cycle was specific and predictable. No matter what the crisis was, its timeline was controlled by the company or organization handling the crisis and the media. The public trusted traditional media to provide the necessary information it needed to digest the event. News cycles were predictable and the public received their updates in the morning or evening paper, on the evening news, and possibly on hourly radio updates. Real-time news interruptions on radio and television channels were rare.
Investigative reporting began to evolve in 1972 when newspaper reporters uncovered the Watergate scandal. The crisis forced President Richard Nixon to become the only president in the history of the United States to resign. The birth of the 24-hour Cable News Network (CNN) in 1980 began to change the face of the news cycle, but it still left the news in the hands of professional journalists. However, the door had been opened to an alternative method of news reporting. No person and no subject was off limits to the press.
In 1999, the citizen journalist movement moved to the forefront in response to events happening around the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. Protesters fearing their story would not be covered by the traditional media garnered support from sympathetic journalists to form the Independent Media Center. The organization still exists today as an alternative to what the group perceives as corporate-controlled journalism.
All these events laid the groundwork for the public's need to circumvent the media and connect directly with one another around shared events. Enter social media.
Crisis 2.0 (After Social Media)
Today, a brand can have a crisis on its hands before they know it. The speed of social media and the reach of the social graph can escalate an event, one that was probably just an issue in Crisis 1.0, into a global viral mess that wreaks havoc on the best of organizations quickly. Add to that the unchecked presence of personal social media accounts under the brand's umbrella and we have a perfect storm on our hands.
Social media responsible use is a necessary mindset. A 2011 study by Altimeter on the causes of social media crises points blatantly to the issue of personal responsibility. The chart below is from a report by Jeremiah Owyang titled, "Social Media Crises on the Rise" and was published August 31, 2011.
Whether it's a rogue fast food employee posting a YouTube video stomping in a lettuce bin, or a college athlete tweeting a photo of himself with a wad of cash in a Las Vegas casino, today's definition of personal integrity is fluid. And social media magnifies that. Social media isn't the devil, it just puts the spotlight on his work.
The need for social media responsible use training is critical. A quick glance at the chart above shows that of the 88 causes in the crises studied, almost half point to irresponsible social media procedures: rogue employees, inappropriate online responses, failure to respond quickly, inappropriate content, community censorship, astroturfing, and lack of fact checking. In order to lessen the risk of a crisis, social media management needs to include training that teaches the responsible use of social media.
Have you got responsible use training in place? What does it look like?