Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Managing Social Media in a Crisis: The Good News, the Bad News, and What You Can Do About It

What social network sciences can tell us about managing social media in a crisis...
Of all brands who got punk'd, to use Jeremiah Owyang's typology, Domino's is certainly up there, due to the infamous video showing the inappropriate behavior of a couple of employees. This example has been rehashed many times, but rarely under the microscope of network scientists. In this video entitled "managing bad news in social media: how social media users react to corporate bad news", researchers analyzed Tweet patterns around the initial prank video, and the video response by Domino's CEO.
Beyond this specific case study, this analysis provides a good representation of the typical patterns brands can experience in the context of a social media 

  • The good news: The response video was somewhat effective insofar as the volume of tweets and overall negative sentiments dropped right after Domino's CEO posted his video statement of apology. 
  • The bad news: Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, the prank video was a lot more popular than the response video.
So, if the response video was barely picked up by those web users who had propagated the prank video in the first place, how come the crisis slowed down on social media after the apology video?
The response, elegantly visualized by the researchers, lies in a network within the network (colored in blue on the video) composed of the twitterati: social media experts, journalists and power bloggers with denser networks. These users, typically logging many more followers than the average user (yes, that big white dot going supernova is Scobleizer) play the role of superconductors to use a fitting electricity analogy. As such, they can accelerate the spread and visibility of a message, turning an obscure tweetstorm-in-a-teacup into the trending topic of the day. In fact, they may very well have done just that in the initial phase of the Domino's crisis, although this is not apparent from the research summarized in this animation.
More interestingly for communicators who often lament the fact that bad news spreads like wildfire but rebuttals hardly get any traction, this research emphasizes the importance of reaching out to these influencers, as early as possible. For good or bad reasons (let's admit it: there is a rubberneck syndrome of watching the next twitter trainwreck as it happens), these experts and commentators pay more attention to the twists and turns of the social media crisis when the average web user has already moved on.
In addition to being more attentive to a brand's response, there is also a certain lag effect online crisis managers know well: Twitter works in real-time, but blog posts may take a few hours, maybe even a day or two to be written. That time difference is a window of opportunity to respond and attempt to get the company's statement out fast enough to be picked up in the inevitable blog posts covering this latest social media crisis. These posts by influential commentators will in turn create a second wave of tweets and retweets. This second cycle of social media coverage can make the difference between successful online crisis management and becoming another Twitter roadkill.

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