It seems the world is in a content flux of change these days. Whether it is the Arab Spring, the breaking up of Motorola, the occupation of Wall Street, or the new version of Facebook, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said more then 2,500 years ago nothing endures but change.
Right now, it happens to be Wall Street taking it on the chin. But Wall Street won’t be the end of this. Other large events are likely to establish themselves. Heraclitus’s tenant holds true even more so in the digital space – change is constant here. Remember Prodigy, DEC, WordStar, Palm Pilot, and other innovations that were going to change the world, and may even slightly did? They are all gone now, swallowed up by the constant state of change that we are dealing with. So the question isn’t if change will come, but when will it come and what will it be? And your corresponding question should be how do I prepare to deal with change?
A crises is really just a disruption of a speed and size that we weren’t prepared for. As I explained before in the Ven of Disruption, we tend to view disruptions as singular events even in the technology space. The problem is that they aren’t singular events. Taking a systems perspective, there are always preceding events that influence the next event. Within the construct of the evolutionary system of Technology, Organization, and Society/Market, there are events or catalysts that constantly cause changes within each of the three components. This rate of change can be classified as either slow or fast, and when looked at over time the impact of the change can be either small or large (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Understanding The Size And Rates Of Change
So taking this lens and applying it to the current crises in existing in social media around Occupy Wall Street and around the pressure being applied to financial services firms over the changes they are making in account terms such as new fees, what we see is a significant flow of information and energy between each of the three elements of disruption. Wall Street firms, after nearly collapsing, recover and make large profits with the perception of little value being returned to the US economy, a Market Disruption. A group of people, angered and annoyed by what Wall Street did bring their issues and sleeping bags to Wall Street, a Cultural Disruption. To communicate about their ire, they turn to technology and the social space to communicate and relate using the same sorts of methods that were used during the WTO and IMF protests, thus spilling a disruption over into the social channel which is a Technology Disruption. Add in the immense amount of entropy that exists within this system because of all of the separate nodes (people, groups, firms) and it gets really messy.
There is no real way to predict where this is going and where it is going to end, and this is not a one time event – it is likely that this will happen again and again as these three components continue to evolve and be disrupted. So firms and government agencies that are thinking that they can just wait this one out need to rethink their strategy – this is the new normal.
How should you prepare and respond
Too many CEO’s are going to want to say that this is a crisis communications issue and deal with it that way. I think that way of thinking is a mistake. This is the world we live in now and we need to be prepared to deal with it. Being a former Boy Scout, I appreciate the motto of Be Prepared more now then I ever did when I was in Scouts. And I think the same holds true for firms dealing with social media and similar crises. You need to start withe the Principles of a Response.
Figure 2: 11 Response Principles
So when a crisis or disruption hits or hopefully before, how should you be prepared? By following the first six of the Principles of a Response (see Figure 2).
- Gut check your culture – Is your culture ready to deal with an event like this? Some of the more traditional organizational cultures are not able to deal with crises like the current crises going on – they don’t want to interact with protestors and detractors. You need to be willing as an organization. If not, you probably have bigger issues.
- Have a strategy in place – It is impossible to be prepared if you don’t have a strategy. Build a strategy for dealing with this before and run scenario exercises to check it.
- Gather intelligence – It is important to always be gathering information and data. In the case of social media, you should always be using monitoring and listening tools.
- Have an established brand presence already in place – If your company is getting slammed in social media, it is a bit late to be setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter feed. Make sure that you have the proper channels set up and running before.
- Set the ground rules – If they are coming to your Facebook page or your blog, you get to set the rules. Think of it as home court advantage. Make sure that you set the rules to your advantage, but be reasonable.
- Bring your friends – The old maxim that the best time to have friends is before you need them is true in the social media world. Build an advocate platform and cultivate these advocates before you need them.
If a crisis still catches you unaware and not prepared, you still need to respond. How? By following the last five Principles.
- Respond quickly but don’t overreact – You need to respond quickly, in most cases within 24 to 48 hours, but don’t overreact by telling people they are wrong or blowing the issue out of proportion.
- Acknowledge the situation – Acknowledge that the situation exists, be honest in your analysis of the situation, and be open to other opinions. Also acknowledge it on the channel where the issue is taking place.
- Respond personally – Yes, you are in a corporation, but crises like these require a personal response and not a lot corporate speak. Put a human face on it and a human voice to it. Respond directly to a person when possible.
- Move the discussion – Just like you wouldn’t want to talk about the issues you are having with your teenager in the middle of a dinner party, you don’t want your primary channels to be clogged with complaints and unsubstantiated issues. You need to have a an equivalent secondary channel already established and ready to roll. If you don’t already have one set up when the crisis hits, get one set up quickly.
- Use crises to drive innovation. There is a reason people are annoyed or the disruption happened. Use that to your advantage to gather value out of crisis, and the way to do that is by using crises to drive innovation. How? By gathering information you can drive change and innovation.
Bottom Line: Disruption, change, crisis – what ever term you use, it is going to happen again in the social media space. And you need to be both proactive and reactive in your response. Understand what you are up against and adopt the 11 principles.
Question: What other principles would you add?