HOW well would your company hold up against a social media crisis?
Melbourne-based reputation management firm Engage ORM has made it a mission to help CEOs and teams find some answers.
Engage founder Gerry McCusker designed The Drill, a simulation platform that throws participants into the deep end of a media disaster while demanding a real-time response through online platforms.
"We introduce our clients to a piece of content, it could be a video or a Facebook feed for example, which is attacking them," says McCusker.
"After presenting them with the problem in its entirety, we ask the clients what their solution is for handling it and we ask them to produce a template strategy they could also use in a real life situation.
"Once we are satisfied they know what they are doing, we turn up the heat in terms of content in a Twitter and Facebook 'like' channel."
The Drill is designed to give participants the worst day of their professional lives, albeit in a completely password protected and simulated environment.
McCusker predicts more than 75 per cent of Australian brands and businesses are ill-prepared to manage an online crisis or scandal, using dated or rudimentary crisis response plans that don't go beyond traditional involvement with mainstream media.
"Often companies have a crisis response plan and just one person who is going to be handling the social media side of things, but it needs to be more seamless than that," says McCusker.
In McCusker's experience, his clients often think the young bucks of communication are going to be the saviours during a crisis because they typically know how to post to Facebook and Tweet effectively.
However, those same tech-savvy employees tend not to be as experienced with traditional mainstream media relations very effectively, creating a situation that cries for consistency.
"We're seeing the younger digital natives go out to quickly push content but when those same people are relied upon to repeat those messages for traditional media, they're just not as effective at dealing with journalists, whether that's print or television," says McCusker.
"The Drill dynamically engages with people so if a team posts any materials on a simulated website or Facebook page, our supervisors within the same environment can ring that person for a traditional interview based on what they have posted.
"It's really designed to show how amplified or multiplied the demand for communicators are within a business."
McCusker expects that at least one well-known Australian brand will be involved in some form of online issues management situation every single day of the year.
Whether the situation escalates into the mainstream media depends on whether stakeholders are inflamed enough and how well or poorly the organisation engages with it.
To protect against an online crisis, McCusker offers three pieces of key advice.
"First businesses need to recalibrate their existing crisis communication plans, and secondly they need to start thinking about responses in terms of video and visual content, not just using traditional words or press releases," says McCusker.
"Finally all companies should test the competency of their staff, because there's a lot of people who claim they understand social media, but that's not something you want to be testing for the first time in the moment where it counts most."
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