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Following recent negative headlines for social media, and Facebook in particular, Databarracks’ Peter Groucutt is warning organizations not to call time on their accounts. Social media is not just for promotion; during a crisis it is often your most effective communications medium.

Last week the UK pub chain, JD Wetherspoon quit social media, citing concerns regarding the "misuse of personal data" and "the addictive nature of social media". According to Groucutt, while these frustrations are understandable, it’s important that organizations don’t underestimate the importance of social media and the role it plays in customer communication and crisis management:

“Managing social media for well-known organizations like JD Wetherspoon is difficult. It is a big UK brand, serves large numbers of customers every day and has a high-profile founder known for being very vocal on political issues.  As a result, those accounts do become a hub for complaints and a target for opposing political views.

“Many commentators have looked at metrics like follower-counts and retweets, and judged that the business won’t lose much by closing its accounts. That however doesn’t consider the value that these accounts have when an organization needs to communicate quickly to a large audience. For a lot of people, the first place they will look for updates on a developing incident is social media. Without a corporate account, you are losing your opportunity to comment and provide official updates.”

Groucutt continued:

“Organizations today are much more exposed to bad publicity because of social media – an incident can make headlines across the globe in minutes, potentially heaping huge reputational damage onto a business. How an organization then responds is of critical importance, and social media is the mechanism for the fastest response.
“The best examples of crisis management comms on social media show that proactive engagement can generate goodwill and garner more patience from the public to rectify a situation. There are some simple steps an organization can take to prepare for social media communications during an incident. 

“Make sure that your social media and crisis management teams are connected and know what circumstances require escalation. Speed is of the essence. In the past an organization might have a window of several hours to prepare a statement and release it to the press. The window to communicate to the public on social media is far shorter. Agree approval-requirements for different situations. What situation can be managed as part of the business-as-usual activity of the social media team and what should be escalated to crisis management?

“Businesses that don’t deal with customer service issues on social accounts every day may not have a social media team prepared to deal with a serious incident involving injury or even loss of life. When an incident does require escalation, the crisis management team should then be in control of approving any messages. The social teams will lead on distribution and managing the response.

“If it is possible to anticipate potential incidents, prepare and agree draft responses in advance. Dealing with an incident is difficult and stressful so anything that can be done to increase speed and minimise errors is incredibly valuable.”

Groucutt concludes: “Recently, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) published a report discussing how nefarious cyber activity over the past 12 months has impacted UK businesses. It referenced the importance of organizations having effective media relations in place, that can react to an incident, reinforcing the value that social media has in supporting crisis planning. The move taken by JD Wetherspoon to remove itself from social media is bold, but other organizations considering a similar approach shouldn’t underestimate the value of social media in the wider context of emergency communications.”

Peter Groucutt is managing director of business continuity and disaster recovery provider at Databarracks.

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