The Crisis Management Impact of a Single Tweet

Erik Bernstein crisis communications, crisis management, crisis preparation, Crisis Prevention, crisis public relations, Crisis Response, online reputation management, public relations, reputation management, social media Leave a Comment

One false report can spiral out of control in a flash

As use of social media by legitimate news outlets rises, so too do the opportunities for irresponsible reporting to plunge individuals and organizations into crisis management mode. If you thought reporters that skipped that pesky “fact checking” part of of the job were dangerous before, check out this timeline of a one recent (and false) report that leapt from small town blog to national headlines, creating one massive headache for South Carolina’s Governor, Nikki R. Haley. Here’s the timeline of events, from an NY Times article by Jeremy Peters:

March 29, 12:52 p.m.: The Palmetto Public Record publishes an article online with the headline “Haley indictment imminent? Stay tuned. …” It cites two unidentified “well-placed legal experts” who said they expected the federal Department of Justice to indict Ms. Haley “as early as this week” on charges stemming from her involvement with a local Sikh temple.

12:54 p.m.: A blogger for The Hill, a Washington newspaper that focuses on government and politics, sends a Twitter post about the article to his 1,500 followers, who include several prominent political journalists with large Twitter followings that reach into the tens of thousands. Some then repost the item — BuzzFeed just two minutes later; The Washington Post 18 minutes after that.

1:03 p.m.: The Daily Beast posts a short article, which it later removes, about the Palmetto Public Record report, becoming one of many online outlets to write lengthier items, including Daily Kos and The Daily Caller. Headlines like one on the Atlantic Wire’s post, “Nikki Haley Probably Won’t Win Republican Veepstakes,” are common.

1:12 p.m.: A USA Today reporter contacts Ms. Haley’s office with a request for comment, the first of dozens of such inquiries that will deluge the governor and her staff for the rest of the day.

1:22 p.m.: The Romney campaign, which is reported to be considering Ms. Haley as one of many possible vice-presidential choices, receives a request for comment from ABC News.

1:25 p.m.: Mr. Smith seems bemused by all the attention his report is getting, posting on Twitter: “Well, now I know what it’s like to watch a story go viral in real time.”

3:29 p.m.: Matt Drudge, whose heavily visited Drudge Report can help drive decisions in newsrooms around the country, links to a Daily Caller article under the headline “REPORT: DOJ targets S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.”

By the next morning, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, The State in Columbia, had an article on its front page.

If you still have ANY doubt about the need to be prepared for social media crises, take a good, hard look at that timeline. It wasn’t even two hours from the time of the original post that ABC News was seeking comment from potential Haley stakeholders, in this case the Romney campaign, who I’m sure were less than happy to hear of the indictment rumors.

Would you even be aware that you had a growing crisis at all before you picked up the phone, or read your name in the Drudge Report? Even more importantly, do you know what your first move would be afterwards?

This type of situation is only going to become more common as social media continues to blur the line between official and non, professional and amateur. You’ve got to keep your (digital) ear to the ground, and be ready for crisis management on the social front.

The BCM Blogging Team

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