The Anatomy of a Crisis Part One: Storm in a Twittercup

Listening to the recent Webinar: How to effectively manage a social media crisis it struck me how readily the term “crisis” is applied to just about anything that can negatively impact a brand on social media. From Twitter hackings to disgruntled employees hijacking a company Twitter, everything is labelled a crisis. However, a real social media crisis will do more than cause a flurry of tweets. It will impact not only a company’s reputation, but customer trust in a brand and, ultimately, have a significant financial impact.

Is it easy for those involved in social media to think events are a crisis? This three part series will look at social media “crises” and what really constitutes reputational and financial damage.

The recent HMV Twitter embarrassing incident caused a flurry of commentary, including our own! But was it really a crisis? Did it significantly damage the brand? Or impact a business already in administration?

If we take a look at a simple timeline of social media mentions around HMV over the course of January and February 2013 a clear spike in activity can be seen. However, if you look closer this isn’t surrounding the social media incident at all, but instead the administration announcement and confusion over gift vouchers.

The number of mentions surrounding this purely on line social media crisis (#hmvxfactorfiring) barely form a blip compared the chatter surrounding the “real life” news of HMV calling in the administrators. Key words showed heavier mentions of topics relating to HMV falling into administration and original decision not to accept gift vouchers compared to key words around the social media crisis.

This isn’t to say that the social media incident was not important. But was it a crisis? Probably not: an issue the company may have handled differently, but not a full blown crisis.

Why was this not a crisis? Well, for starters, it had no lasting impact – people stopped talking about Poppy Powers (the perpetrator of the live firing tweets on the HMV account) and her #hmvxfactorfiring in less than a day. Certainly it didn’t cause any lasting financial, reputational or trust issues for the company: the cornerstones of a true crisis. In fact, in this instance, it was completely overshadowed by “real life” events, namely HMV going into administration, and completely ignored by mainstream news. In fact, the entire storm barely spread outside of Twitter!

Perhaps we have to be careful not to view every incident entirely through a social lens. An incident doesn’t necessarily make a crisis and shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.

Look out for part two: When a social media crisis really does impact reputation.

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