Cisco Blogs

The Social Soap Box: Managing Crisis in a Social Media World

July 20, 2010 - 21 Comments

If working in crisis communication teaches you one thing, it’s the importance of perspective. A quick scan of your favorite news channels will reveal reputation-impacting crisis comes in all shapes and sizes – natural disasters, environmental damage, product recalls, even employees in trouble with the law.  Look deeper, and you’ll start to see how social media is playing a critical role.  In some cases, it amplifies the crisis, and in others it’s helping a company to identify and respond to it.

At Cisco, we have a range of crisis management experts who are focused on protecting our people, property and customers.  This capability is also supported by a great team of corporate communicators trained to respond in times of urgent need.  As part of this team, I spoke with our crisis communications lead, Nigel Glennie about some of the tips we’ve picked up along the way:

  1. Preparation – Most executives and professional communicators can identify the things ALL companies and THEIR company should be prepared to handle.  Why not complete that work ahead of time, without the pressure of a real crisis event?
  2. Process – Once you’re prepared, put an agreed process in place to identify and respond to a crisis.  Having the people, resources and channels (traditional and social!) ready will accelerate your company’s response, even during situations you couldn’t predict.
  3. Speed – Never underestimate the value of a fast, thoughtful company response.  Social media may have compressed the time companies have to respond to an event, but it also serves as a “listening post” – potentially offering you advance notice and an opportunity to head off an issue.
  4. Credibility – Being an active member of a community gives you a voice in that community.  Many companies including Cisco, are already using social media to participate in relevant conversations with self-nominated groups of interest.
  5. Perspective – “Is anyone’s life in danger?”  Unfortunately, sometimes the answer is yes.  Remember that one person’s crisis may only qualify as a bad day for someone else.  Keep your eye on the big picture and you’ll be sure to gauge the appropriate response.

If you work in crisis management or manage crisis communications, we’d love to hear your perspective. Respond to this post or email me directly at

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  1. Many companies missed the trend to the Social Media movement and the associated Social Networking so far or operate it like 9 to 5 o’clock job.

  2. I am glad that you stress education as it is so important to stay in top of technology.

  3. Great tips to keep mind. My colleagues are starting out their own business and I am somehow part of the team. We are currently facing a lot of issues as a start-up company – we really started from scratch. Its hard because we lack experience but as I’ve said to them, this is part of the learning process for us. Well, these tips will surely help us in building a strong foundation for the team.

  4. I strongly agree with the fast response point. If you broadly engage in social media you will need a monitoring tools that gives you real time results of your brand mentions.There are few good ones on the market. This way you can engage in discussion in the early stage before is to late.

  5. You can call me skeptical but i see social media facing a crisis in near future :s

  6. I think setting up a good social media presence is a great insurance policy for corporate image crisis. I’m sure the folks at BP wish they had jumped on the bandwagon a little sooner.

  7. I believe that social media is complex and both exiting too, if you are well engaged with you social media network, it will certainly provide you value in coming years, and what I believe in crisis time is, It’s a time for you to prepare for next big leap…regardsGareth

  8. Excellent post. Having a clear cut plan of action in times of crisis is crucial, especially if a company has already embraced social media. Just like forums were the outlet for updates 10 years ago for many companies, such is Twitter and the like now a days. There are a few basic guidelines I think any company in this position should follow:1. Be honest. Don’t try to fluff it up. You WILL get called out. 2. Have regular updates. Every 30 min, every hour, etc. 3. Be consistent, so your client base knows what to expect.

  9. I’m not big fan of Social Networks, but i liked the latest technology and gadgets.And its the first time i heard from a company who care about employees, as having crisis management. keep the efforts!

  10. It is extremely important to have a contingency plans however the most important thing is that people actually know what the plan is.

  11. I agree with your article, especially the first item in your list. Companies really need to have a contingency plan in place so a potential issue can be dealt with quickly, instead of making things up when it happens.Thank you..

  12. The key, as mentioned, is
    eal-time.”” Years ago, responding within 24 hours was adequate. Now, with social media in the picture, you may have to respond in minutes to get out your word.Otherwise, someone else will beat you to the punch with perhaps a “”spin”” you don’t want to hear.”

  13. It’s never a bad idea having plans and processes. Well managed social media can add a level of perceived transparency beneficial to companies during times of crisis. I think Lilyn brought up a good point in that we sometimes don’t know we’re in (or headed for) a crisis situation until it’s happening.

  14. Great post, Autumn and Nigel! As part of the social media training team here at Cisco, we focus heavily on education- which includes the importance of online monitoring for a potential crisis. Equipping your company with not only the process but also the technology/tools to ensure that they are kept up to date in
    eal-time”” is essential–especially in today’s rapidly changing social web.– @deanna24

  15. @Lilyn: Thanks for the feedback. You make a great point – having the evidence to describe why something is (or just as importantly isn’t) a crisis is critical. By equipping your clients with that context you’re helping them achieve the measured re

  16. So an example of how the social network is both advantage and complex. The accident when the container ship hit the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. The Social Network was discussing environmental impacts, safety and the impact of the efforts the Coast Guard and make opinion as well as choices while the City and USCG was still collecting data and trying to prepare a statement. The statement when it arrived was never up to date or even close to being satisfactory. The City has since then started to monitor and respond to social network discussions. This allows them to correct and or understand corrections to data earlier.The other side of it is that in a case/example a fire in the woods… the social network and the crisis mgmt networks can only report what they see, smell and hear. Combined they can bring a better day 1, 1st responder effort to the impacted area’s and advisories to those impacted and not able to communicate via traditional means.

  17. Great post…In my work with clients, oftentimes they don’t know”” or “”know how to recognize”” when they are in a crisis situation. My job is to tell them. We monitor activity and provide the strategies and tactics to address various issues. But even with a plan in hand, the mindset in some companies is “”it’ll just blow over”” or “”lets not do anything – right now.”” In crisis communications from both a traditional and even more so in the social media space, you must provide (and have in place) the tools and the metrics to provide that counsel. Metrics could be everything from identifying influencers to providing a history. Seems like common sense, but as you know, that means different things to different people.”

  18. I agree with your article, especially the first item in your list. Companies really need to have a contingency plan in place so a potential issue can be dealt with quickly, instead of making things up when it happens.

  19. Nigel is right on target, make incident management part of the normal business process, cisco has the ability to respond and trust those decisions without the need for the executive pow wow.

  20. With the critical role that social media is playing these days, it´s very important for companies keep an eye on social channels to catch any event in time to ease the management.

  21. although I am not from computers related field….I usually follow latest technology and gadgets……. Found this post interesting one……