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Kevin Dean
by Kevin Dean
on May 26, 2013

Understanding Social Media Issues & Crisis

What is a social media issue? A social media issue, also known as a social media risk, this is any type of activity that can expose a company or an individual to loss, damage, trouble or any or adjectives that can be a problem in the future. In other words, there isn’t a problem yet but there is a chance there might be. There are so many of these possible issue, that we wouldn’t have time to go through them all so a few examples are as follows: customer services issues, miscommunication on behalf of a brand or negative or flagged comments on a social media channel. Social media issues can also be ongoing concerns that aren’t triggered by a specific event, but are seeds that can grow into larger problems for a company in the future if the social climate changes in a particular way. The better a social media marketer knows these issues and how to respond if they begin to grow, the more in control of the situation they will be.

Other social media issues can come from simple rebranding that the public disagrees with. One example of this is with the well-known clothing store brand Gap. In 2010 they attempted to change their logo and get rid of the blue box altogether. What was supposed to be an exciting moment for the company quickly turned into an embarrassing nightmare as the public responded with comical disgust to the new look, causing Gap to cancel the change. As social media has become even more powerful since that occurred, the response to these issues is all the more important.

In the aforementioned example for Gap, what began as an issue would have turned into a crisis had the company not responded and kept the logo change from occurring. Many customers would have probably turned their backs on the brand, writing them off as being stubborn or out of touch, causing serious problems for the clothing brand’s business.

It’s also important to remember that social media crises always have an element of surprise. Everyone has a smartphone and can communicate with many other people incredibly quickly. This means that something that would have otherwise been forgotten about in the past can become a very big deal very quickly. Another element to remember is that many crises evolve out of an environment where there is insufficient information about the relevant facts and the emerging public perception of the issue. This should be addressed when trying to stem a crisis as well, and it should be done quickly as there is a real need for speed so that the misconception or the size of the crisis doesn’t reach more people and become any bigger.

The Gap example given earlier was self-inflicted, as would be the Melissa Mayer rule at Yahoo about Mom’s not being given ample maternity leave time. Stories that break via major media have a number of different elements to them, ranging between what the headline says and where the focus of the story directs the public initially, to what the public’s collective response is though the numerous comments on different media outlets. Viral content grows out of people spreading information about a company themselves, like a cell phone video of a FedEx driver throwing a computer monitor over a gate to make a delivery. 5 million people saw that, instantly giving the company a lot of negative press, The best way to deal with this type of crisis is to respond publicly, which FedEx did quickly and it went away.

So what is the difference between a social media issue and crisis. An issue is something that could become a problem in the future, is currently small, but won’t grow out of control with proper management. A social media crisis is one that has grabbed the larger public’s attention because it touches on one or more of the characterizations of a crisis. There are various ways to deal with these issues and crises, depending on what categories they fall into. But the one thing they all have in common is the social media manager and the company understanding why the public is upset in the first place.

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