Social Media: Who Are You Dealing With?

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    Know thy audience, young crisis managers

    Social media crisis management can be confusing to navigate, especially if you’re not sure which stakeholder groups you’re dealing with. Although each comment obviously comes from an individual, there are discernible groups that you see emerge again and again to join in online debates and dramatics.

    In a post discussing online issues management tactics, social media pro Chris Syme defined four of the most common:

    1. Self-appointed citizen journalists will jump at the chance to enter the conversation and have their news expertise highlighted and retweeted . They generally have no dog in the fight—they just have a news nose and want to be in the fray. As soon as the initial news cycle is over, they will move on. They are trying to establish a reputation in real-time events and have no interest in sticking around.

    2. Watch dogs are watching. It doesn’t matter where the issue takes place, their interest is in the subject, not in the players. They are the self-appointed keepers of the gate, so to speak. Often, they keep tabs on sites like Reddit or Deadspin and follow news related to their area of interest. Generally, this group will keep tabs on the issue, and if there is another news cycle or a red flag, they will show up again.

    3. Advocates are ready to jump in. Whether or not your advocates actually enter the conversation will depend on two things: their level of engagement with the brand and their propensity for commenting and sharing online. Their level of engagement will depend on how you have cultivated their online partnership. If your social media strategy is broadcast and reach only, they may hang back. If you have been proactive in building conversations and using other loyalty strategies in social media, they are already used to being an active part of your community. This is why it’s paramount to be using loyalty strategies in your social media (see the how-to here).

    4. Social media trolls and haters: Sometimes people confuse haters and trolls with watchdogs. They are not the same. Generally, watchdogs are those people that have legitimate concerns with the issue. They may not always be civil, and their behavior can mirror that of haters, but they are issue-oriented nonetheless. Haters and trolls may have an affinity for controversial issues, and oftentimes they are just plain troublemakers. It is in their nature to spew and go. They are like a swarm of angry hornets. When someone stirs the nest—an inflamed article on Reddit or angry tweet from another hater, they fly into action. Haters and trolls flourish in the first news cycle of the issue but rarely stick around for long.

    Knowing your audience is one of the core principles of crisis communications. By determining who it is you’re communicating with, you can determine what tone and level of response is required, or in the case of blatant trolls, who warrants no response at all.

    Next time you find yourself in the midst of social media crisis management, review these definitions, and use them to craft the perfect response. Remember not to get too cookie cutter though, every situation requires a fresh evaluation of just which approach is best!

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]