Social Media Create Work for Crisis PR

When we saw the digital revolution coming and the newspaper titled “Demise” being delivered to our doorstep, I knew those of us in public relations were in trouble. How wrong I was.

After all, spinmeisters were highly dependent upon the working press to navigate a crisis. We knew the deadlines and the proper pathways to thwart more negative press. More importantly, we believed we could exert some control over the public’s perception of a crisis.


Today, we are experiencing a significant rise in crises due to social media, citizen journalists and a never-ending news cycle. What does this mean to PR people? Simply, more work.

Yes, that’s right. Social media have created a whole new generation of crises and will continue to do so. Now, absent gatekeepers and structured news cycles, crises crop up faster than morel mushrooms in spring.

To me, this means job security. You never know when someone is snapping a picture of a barista putting his fingers in a cup of java or a fight breaking out on an overseas flight. Just think for a minute of the public relations nightmares you’ve seen recently created by having a hand-held device close to some unfortunate action. Too many to name? I bet so.

Currently, I’m putting together a team to explore, in detail, how public relations practitioners can effectively address what appears to be an out-of-control crisis pinwheel resulting from social media.

Let’s look at the numbers. Hundreds of millions of digital devices with video and audio recording capability, plus the Internet (thanks, Al), plus thousands upon thousands of news (or lack thereof) sites. No wonder our phones are ringing off the hook with links to social media-created crises.

Recently I watched a “viral video” that got four uninterrupted minutes on the highest-rated cable news station in America. Governor Christie from New Jersey was filmed talking about his good friend gone bad due to addiction and depression. The man eventually killed himself with booze and meds. It struck me that the Bridge-gate governor was red hot – passionate, real, unscripted. Why couldn’t he do that in real time?

My point? Well, some of the on-the-fly social media output actually can be good. Alas, most of it is bad when it comes to reputations and positive public relations.

We recently had a state legislator who was caught with his pants down … literally and figuratively … on a sex video . He had to resign immediately. I didn’t check to see if he led any committees for the “restoration of values” or abstinence initiatives. That would only have been icing on the disaster seven-layer cake.

Yes, there’s a new game in town. Big Brother has moved into the neighborhood, and most of our actions are being recorded whether we know it or not. This is leading to a major rise in public relations disasters at every turn.
Hard to imagine that I had been worried about keeping my job. And I haven’t even appeared in a sex video … that I am aware of.

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