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Twitter and Auntie show how not to manage a crisis

Integrated PR - 9th January 2009

Twitter appears to have lost some of its lustre in the last few days, thanks to a Phishing scam and some hacking incidents.  Or to be precise, thanks to how it as an organisation reacted to these.  There was a good overview and discussion on For Immediate Release earlier this week, which is worthing checking out.

Twitter’s offence is the same as that committed by the BBC (a.k.a. ‘Auntie’) during the recent Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sachs storm, namely inaction.  Faced with situations that were potentially damaging to their reputations both organisations did precisely nothing for a period of days and allowed their stories to be – literally – written for them.

In the case of the BBC, the perception is that bureaucracy and panic caused the management to freeze; as a result, what could have been contained as a relatively minor incident was allowed to spiral in the media for days.  The eventual response from DG Mark Thompson came too late to prevent real repuational damage which has directly impacted the BBC’s financial position and, as is presently rumoured, may lead to Thompson making an earlier than planned exit from his job.

Twitter’s situation is potentially just as damaging, particularly because its inaction is being attributed by some commentators not to bureaucracy or panic but arrogance and indifference.  For example, David Meerman Scott – a man with a big following – was pretty damning in his assessment of the company’s reaction, and he’s a fan.

Both organisations are guilty of ignoring the basic rules of crisis communications – Twitter because its management is alleged to believe it doesn’t need any PR help, thank you, and the BBC because…er, you decide.

When a crisis hits the first thing to realise is that things can develop an incredible momentum in no time at all.  The only way you can hope to protect your reputation is to COMMUNICATE, and do it fast.  If you don’t immediately step up to become the principal source of news and information about what is going on you can bet someone else will – and they may not be putting things across accurately or as you see them.

When we work with clients to help them manage a crisis or, preferably, undertake preparedness planning this is the first fundamental thing we explain.  For the Beeb and Twitter – both organisations devoted to communication – to have got it so wrong is quite something.  Let’s hope both learn from the experience.