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We need to stop talking about social media disasters and talk about management failures

I am beginning to get a little tired of all the headlines in the media about ‘social media disasters’.

A social media disaster is when Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Blogger or another social media service goes offline for an extended period of time, has user account information stolen or loses data.

These are all situations where millions of people are inconvenienced or worse due to a social media platform not ‘just working’ as we expect it to.

However what the media generally talks about when referring to a ‘social media disaster’ is when an organisation or individual behaves unwisely or inappropriately and is caught out by its customers.

Whether it is Vodafone, 2DayFM (Kyle Sandilands), Qantas, Woolworths, Westpac or the latest ‘victim’ Curtin University, the ‘social media disasters’ these organisations have all faced are management and communication issues.

Their issues are due to decisions or choices the organisations have made which have been communicated poorly and viewed unfavorably by customers and the public.

Certainly people are now using social media to express their outrage and concern, however this is because social media allows the public the ability to express their views in ways not previously possible.

Social media services do support light-speed dissemination, which can amplify issues. In particular social media has proven an excellent tool for connecting people together – including those with concerns that otherwise organisations could dismiss as ‘isolated incidents’.

However social media is rarely creating legitimate concerns. Qantas grounding its fleet, Westpac sacking staff and raising interest rates, Vodafone having network issues, Kyle Sandilands abusing people on air and Curtin University giving an honourary degree to a hated figure all occurred regardless of the existence, or not, of social media.

If organisations wish to succeed in a world where the public has a louder voice than ever before they need to stop blaming Facebook and Twitter for their troubles and look at their own management and communication strategies.

They need to stop considering social media and their customers as ‘the enemy’ and instead treat them with respect. Listening to what they want and executing accordingly – or developing effective communication strategies to explain why they didn’t execute in the way people wanted.

Organisations need to stop fearing the tools and embrace them. Join conversations, acknowledge their faults and move discussions into constructive areas – engage, engage, engage in multi-way dialogues.

So let’s all stop talking about social media disasters and focus on the reasons organisations get into trouble (online or offline). Let’s have a long hard look at who is making management decisions and the process used to inform them. Let’s carefully consider how organisations communicate and the strategies and tactics that underpin them.

Focus on what is controllable and practical – an organisation’s management and communications strategies – not the response of the public online AFTER the organisation has already made a decision.

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Colleen Ayers

I don’t understand why “everyone” thinks this is such a new phenomenon. Yes, the effect tends to be a bit “bigger” because the communication can reach thousands of people so quickly, but the mistake is little different than an indiscreet comment made at a big social function with clients as guests, or an advertisement posted in a newspaper that wasn’t properly vetted. Particularly in government, there’s long been policies in place that guide or restrict what employees can say to journalists, rules about what you can publish in your own works, etc. The key is reminding people that these still apply with new platforms.

Sometimes, I think the problems are more about lack of common sense and etiquette than anything else.

Steve Cottle

Great post, Craig. I appreciate the focus on an organization’s decision/action/message, as opposed to the channel through which it is expressed. If the focus were here, instead of on the channel, there would certainly be fewer “social media disasters” to deal with.