Doing trumps talking in crisis management

Saying that "Brand X should have engaged its consumers better on its corporate blog" or "I wouldn't have said that on Twitter" isn't constructive. It's not even constructive criticism.

Over the last two or three months, I've had a number of conversations regarding crisis management tools and techniques with various colleagues. One of the most frequent topics that arises is how digital has changed the core response activities involved and how, more often than not, each and every crisis concludes with “and social media wins again!” or something similar.

From my perspective, the latter seems to be more of a satisfactory result to the masses than the actual outcome (e.g. a company changing a policy) or issue. That's unfortunate.

Even more so, we seem to now recognize a group of “social media experts” – and I use “experts” loosely – who sit around and pontificate about how this or that brand or organization “did things wrong,” “shouldn't have done this,” and so forth, with little to no actual value-add on the conversation. Many, though obviously not all, of our so-called thought leaders are little more than people who happen to have a lot of Twitter followers. I don't envy them. I only ask that they actually try and contribute to the situation, not exacerbate it.

Saying that “Brand X should have engaged its consumers better on its corporate blog” or “I wouldn't have said that on Twitter” isn't constructive. It's not even constructive criticism.

It's what, sadly, is passing for expertise in today's PR marketplace for many people. Many of the aforementioned “experts” are the first to rush to the “and social media wins again!” thread on Twitter or whatever interview they can get without ever actually looking into the situation or even contacting a brand manager about what occurred.

If I had a nickel for every time someone who claims to be there to help organizations get better at social was to actually ask a few qualifying questions before writing a 3,000-word blog post about “what went down,” I'd have two empty pockets.

Heck, I worked on a massively successful blogger program a number of years ago where someone wrote about “a major problem with the campaign” in a book, stating a certain policy or comment from another PR/social media consultant. When called on the facts related to what they stated in the book, the response was, “Well, person X told me that this happened, so I wrote it that way.” Zero calls to the publicly available team running the program, the brand, or the agency. Just a quote in the book, which a number of people surely read and considered official.

Consider this my challenge to a work-related duel to those who think that becoming the media critics of new entitles them to somehow speak at every single event, pen book after book without many a sleepless night tracking conversations on Twitter, editing responses from a CEO on his or her blog, or ensuring that an on-air interview doesn't undercut what a company says on its own social media channels, as doing so would be an affront to the social media space that brought the issue to light in the first place – making the issue about something altogether different.

It's our job to serve our clients, companies, employees, and customers with the respect and dignity they deserve. It's our job to resolve crises appropriately, determine the proper courses of action, and communicate with any and all constituencies through the most effective channels. It's not our job to shout one another down, effectively turning what's beautiful about the doors social media opens up into an angry mob when it's convenient to do so.

Let's stop focusing on “how Brand X had its hand forced by social media” and figure out a way to properly tap into the tools, channels, and audiences our organizations must be a part of to handle customer service, discuss important topics, offer unique access to our executives and team members, and solve problems. Our customers are expecting us to respond, react, and resolve at lightning speed. While that's not always possible, that customer's issue is the concern we should be focused on while being conscious of how we do so.

Tom Biro is VP at the Seattle office of Allison+Partners. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at or on Twitter @tombiro.

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