Companies lack social media crisis plans

FRANKFURT, GERMANY: In-house corporate communicators feel social media is important during a crisis, yet many don't have a social media contingency plan in place.

FRANKFURT, GERMANY: In-house corporate communicators feel social media is important during a crisis, yet many don't have a social media contingency plan in place.

A new survey from German consultancy Gartner Communications found 84.8% of companies worldwide have general crisis plans in place, but only 20.7% have social media crisis plans set. In-house communicators rated the importance of social media in a crisis as seven out of 10.

"Clients in some industries understand that social media is important for their business," said Lex Suvanto, managing director of Abernathy MacGregor, which focuses on crisis communications. "A subset of those clients have gone further to really put true contingency plans in place for social media-related crises, or crises in which social media becomes a centerpiece."

More than 57% of respondents reported they are well-prepared or excellently prepared for a traditional crisis, but 78.6% said they were pretty unprepared or so-so when it comes to social media crises. The survey also found that 71.4% of in-house communicators think social media will become even more important in crisis communications going forward.

"We're seeing a few high-profile circumstances where the criticality of this has become more apparent," said Chad Latz, president of Cohn & Wolfe Digital. The agency, he added, advises clients to plan a communications process that allows the company to respond very quickly online for a crisis.

"We create a detailed list of all areas of exposure," he said, including "an inventory of key influencers, proactively building the company's reputation with those folks." For issues that are very likely to come up for a company, they even generate tweets and social media responses in advance.

The survey found that 77.4% of respondents said training crisis team members on how to engage is an important element of social media crisis preparedness, while 64.5% noted social media monitoring. Other elements of planning on social media include crisis mapping (61.3%), listing relevant social media outlets (61.3%), and rules for approving social media posts (58.1%).

"The world is still at level one when it comes to preparing for social media crisis communications, in that many companies don't have monitoring yet," Suvanto noted. Abernathy focuses on strategic contingency planning, he said, getting clients to discuss, "What could happen and how could that affect our business?"

The survey also looked at communications agencies and their preparedness during a social media crisis. More than 61% of agencies reported they are well-prepared or excellently prepared to deal with, and help clients deal with, a crisis where social media is heavily involved.

The survey, which took place in July and August 2010, surveyed 91 in-house and agency professionals from around the world, mostly with high-level titles including chairman, CEO, owner, SVP, and head of corporate communications.

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