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PR At The Speed of Twitter February 16, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Marketing and PR.
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How long does it take for your business to go from zero to crisis mode? The answer is: As long as it takes an unhappy someone with a significant social media presence to whip out his or her Blackberry.

What so many companies don’t seem to realize in this age of instant communications is that they need to react — immediately — when negative communications begin swirling around the blogosphere. As I noted last week, in the Google/Twitter/Facebook era of today, crisis communications response is measured in hours, if not minutes.

To demonstrate exactly what impact social media can have: On Saturday, Director Kevin Smith tweeted his 1.6 million followers within minutes of being thrown off a Southwest Airlines plane in Oakland, Calif., allegedly for being too overweight to fit comfortably in the seats. Whether his ejection was justified or not (Smith says it wasn’t), the incident was retweeted, blogged and then noted in mainstream media almost immediately, ultimately prompting Southwest to tweet and blog its own expressions of regret the next day.

In addition to how quickly companies must react to protect corporate reputation, what this story illustrates so well is that you can never know exactly when or how a threat to your company’s reputation will crop up. In this case, a customer relations gaffe — for certainly, whether Smith’s girth was against airline policy or not, his ejection from the plane wasn’t handled as well as it probably could have been — caused Southwest an unpleasant media uproar culminating with Smith relentlessly and quite publicly declaring to his millions of followers that he will never again fly Southwest. And it also nicely illustrates that it’s not enough to have a social media web presence; companies must effectively manage their social identity by sustaining a solid online reputation and addressing potential PR crises immediately.

When companies craft their crisis communications plans, they need to fully realize they have literally minutes to react to any threat to their carefully crafted brands. Be prepared!

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