When a crisis hits, conversations happen on social media whether the company, city or individual is controlling the conversation or not. The firestorm around Mayor Bloomberg's decision to continue the NYC Marathon is no different. In fact, it's very similar to Giuliani's decision to continue the marathon after 911.
Negative posts are popping up on Facebook like dandelions after a spring rainfall - and the City of New York's PIO (Public Information Officer) and Marathon PR staff are nowhere to be found.
Post like this one are going completely unanswered all over Facebook.
Not only are those directly impacted by the Hurricane not seeing the point of what is claimed "giving people something to cheer about," but their frustration over necessary diverted resources (like portable toilets, water, food and recovery volunteers) is growing from a rumble to a deafening roar.
To make matters worse, the flurry of public criticism on the INGNYCM page itself are ignored. The page has made some efforts, such as putting up a "Race for Recovery" cover image and a donations tab - but are not even trying to handle the oubreak of criticism around their decision to continue the event.
It's not only impacting social media - but being picked up by major media outlets all over the country.
So what could NYC and Marathon PR staff be doing differently - from a SOCIAL MEDIA perspective?
1. Don't ignore the victims. Reply with some pro-active crisis management strategies. Be transparent about where resources are coming from and (hopefully) how they are NOT diverting critical resources, but instead bringing in fresh ones, such as runners volunteering for clean-up before/after the race.
2. Turn the negative into positive. A pat message of "bringing hope and cheer" doesn't cut it when things are bad. Instead, communication about how race-related resources are benefiting victims would be more helpful. Are they bringing their own supplies, so precious food/water isn't taken from victims? ARe the portable generators brought in from outside resources and donated afterwards to the worst hit neighborhoods?
3. Put brainpower to work and PLAN AHEAD! They should have seen this coming before it caught fire. A total lack of crisis control is throwing fuel on the fire, instead of helping redirect it to be beneficial to recovery. Even if it required pulling in outside PR experts, this situation should be managed instead of ignored. Ignoring outcry is almost as damaging as a cover-up.
4. Better late than never - take control now. Addressing the general public in a timely manner is critical. It's not too late, they could jump in right now and start taking control. There will be some tough questions, but transparency and honesty is FAR better than silence.
And last but not least,
5. Quickly set up ways to monitor the conversations, and establish procedures for handling it. This is clearly lacking, and perhaps the biggest reason behind their silence. Social media crisis control mirrors media crisis control -the same basic rules apply. Get someone on the relevant Facebook pages, pull on your Big Girl Panties or Big Boy Briefs, and get down to work. Now.
I'm hoping they take heed before the lack of control makes global news. The outcry is justified, in my opinion, and my prayers and thoughts are with those impacted as they put their energy and spirit into recovery. Maybe this article will help in some small way, if the Marathon takes heed.