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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Social Media Immediacy

As bloggers, we know that social media is a fluid environment. When attacked, companies and organizations must decide whether to respond quickly to negative sentiment, or wait to assess their response.

Some argue that the percentage of the overall population actively engaging in social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and Digg - though growing - has not yet reached critical mass. But here's the question: is it already a significant enough number, or a critically important enough audience, to warrant constant serious attention by professional communicators?

Was it worth it for Johnson & Johnson's Motrin to pull its controversial ad because of the uproar it caused on Twitter and blogs? According to Ad Age, citing Lightspeed Research, almost 90% of women never saw the ad. Surveys show that more attention was paid to the surrounding crisis and swift corporate reaction versus the ads themselves.

"Too often, communicators act too soon without listening to who are doing the chatting and what it really means to their brand. Sometimes communicators are completely absent from the conversation," remarks social media expert Howard Greenstein.

In contrast, Amazon is currently in the middle of how to continue to react. They had to act quickly last weekend when angry authors (and supporters) of gay and lesbian books whose works were de-listed from the sales charts launched a Twitter-offensive over the Easter holiday weekend. Tagged #amazonfail, thousands posted angry online sentiments about Amazon. Even people who aren't necessarily fans of the de-listed books or authors joined the fray. So far, Amazon is claiming no policy change and that the de-listing was likely due to an algorithm glitch. Amazon called it "an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloguing error." (sic) Question: are they communicating enough? How much would be too much? And are they listening enough first?

In crisis communications, we often talk about the "Golden Hour" a period of time in which you can gather information and respond. It is a phrase from emergency medicine which says that you don't have tons of time, but a little more time than you think. The first five minutes of gut instinct panic responses could lead to the wrong actions in medicine. Taking a little bit more time - but not too much - allows for finding out more data and information, and a more informed response. In social media, we're watching to see if the "golden hour" principle is the rule or the exception.

What has your experience been with social media and situations involving businesses and their services or products that may, or may not, be crises? Do you believe that a quick corporate response is essential even if the scope and scale of the social media conversation remains unclear? Is it enough to respond quickly online, or is immediate corporate action essential as well?

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