This is the first in a three-part series of posts exploring what is online reputation management? Part I looks at crisis management in the age of social media.

The crisis management model is under threat. Robust plans that once cut the mustard with traditional media are struggling to control and contain the spread of online crises across the social space. An emergency press conference isn’t enough to stop rumours and speculation spreading across social networks, damaging reputations and leaving behind unsavoury Google search results.

 Online reputation management is a new strand of communications, which monitors and manages what is said about your brand or business online; this article focuses on implementing this in a crisis situation.

Three key trends are changing the way we need to think:

Speed of spread

Social media speeds up the spread of bad news, which means reaction times needs to be sharp. A typical crisis timeline might look like this:

• Instant distribution. A breaking crisis is picked up in a matter of minutes by people close to the incident or story. News is instantly distributed, largely by the public (e.g. Hudson Plane crash)
• Online publishing. Mainstream online media (e.g. BBC online) and traditional bloggers pick the story up. Content can become instantly searchable on Google within the hour
• Waves of sharing. Once this content is published, people begin sharing socially, ‘Liking’ on Facebook and re-tweeting on Twitter. This can also happen within hours

Anybody can be a somebody

Anyone using social media can catalyse a crisis. Look at the recent online crisis facing Urban Outfitters: a small designer’s Tumblr blog set off a chain reaction on Twitter that ended with celebrity support and negative coverage on Huffington Post. CNN recently tracked the sharing of news from its site and found one person in Paris generated 5,000 page views after sharing content with her extended network.

Search legacy

When a crisis first breaks intensive management resource is needed; even when it dies down, the legacy of the crisis persists on search engines like Google. For years after the event, negative content on sites with high Pageranks and relevancy can be a curse. And you can’t ask Google to take it down.

Have a look at our latest slideshare on ‘Reverse Viral Marketing: 8 tips for managing a crisis online‘.

Online Reputation Management: Part II will be exploring some of the preventative measures you can take to minimise your chances of getting caught up in an online crisis.

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