Twitter serves dual role in crises

A number of well known personalities have faced trouble lately for running their mouths on Twitter—a nightmare that doesn't look like it will go away for PR professionals.

A number of well known personalities have faced trouble lately for running their mouths on Twitter—a nightmare that doesn't look like it will go away for PR professionals.

While the overwhelming majority has been offering sentiments of hope and compassion about the crisis in Japan, a few took to Twitter this past week with an entirely different, and resoundingly negative, approach. The culprits: comedian Gilbert Gottfried, entertainer 50 Cent, and “Family Guy” scriptwriter Alex Sulkin.

In the aftermath, Aflac severed its ties with Gottfried as the voice behind the Duck in its commercials. Later, Gottfried offered an apology. Sulkin deleted the offensive tweet and said he was sorry. Meanwhile, 50 Cent's defense was “shock value.”

The increasing relevance of social platforms, such as Twitter, have truly proven as a great way to get information out widely and in realtime. But with any emergence of any new communications tool, comes the need for more prevention and less carelessness on monitoring these platforms by those in the PR industry.

Social media may have first been seen as purely for entertainment purposes, but its services to the public have dramatically changed. For example, Japan's Prime Minister recently launched an English-language Twitter feed (@JPN_PMO) to provide information.

Last week, Chrysler said it was not renewing its contract with its social media strategy New Media Strategies, after an employee tweeted the f-bomb via the Chrysler handle.

These instances show social media platforms are not just a new trend, but are tools that serve multiple functions in crisis communications, entertainment, PR, and even as a crisis instigator.

PR professionals must continue to be prepared to avoid any communications bumps and blunders that stem from these new mediums. Companies should also pay close attention to the social medial agencies they are hiring, and not simply hire based on a fad.

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