Training: Step One in Preparing for a Social Media Crisis

A couple of weeks ago, lawyers from up and down the Atlantic coast of the U.S. gathered at the Marriott Marquis in New York’s Times Square York City for the 23rd Annual Corporate Counsel Conference East Coast.

Like attorneys everywhere, the corporate lawyers gathered in New York feel certain  that their company could find itself in the same position as McDonald’s, Delta  and Living Social. McDonald’s was the victim of a racist hoax, Delta’s policies on excess baggage charges for soldiers returning from Afghanistan created a firestorm of negative publicity, and Living Social posted a “deal” for concealed weapons permits in Detroit on the day a gunman with a legal handgun opened fire on Rep. Gabriele Gifford and a number of her constituents. 

In two of these three examples, the company did nothing wrong — and it’s arguable that bad information provided to soldiers was the root cause of Delta’s PR nightmare, too.  But training might have mitigated the results for all three companies, according to conference presenters.

These days, it’s quick and easy for employees and customers to use technology to share their complaints and concerns instantly, with worldwide reach.  Customers with valid complaints have a right to voice their complaints, but unhappy employees and hoaxters are often a more direct threat.  From a legal and PR standpoint it might be better to handle valid complaints directly, without the pressure of a “viral” Internet campaign — and only training will help employees spot times when this might be possible. 

Dealing with malicious or untrue postings intended to harm the company for one reason or another requires a special set of skills that can be acquired only through a thorough understanding of both social media and legal issues, one speaker noted. 

Technology creates a climate where companies are more vulnerable to a range of negative publicity opportunities that can have global reach in minutes or hours – not days.   And, once the information is online, regulators often step in.  At that point, how much training employees can make a huge difference in how the crisis plays out, and how regulators and insurors address it.

Orrie Dinstein, Chief Privacy Leader and Senior IP Counsel, GE Capital: “Training is very important. One of the first questions regulators will ask is what training employees received.”

The first 90 days immediately after a merger or acquisition are dangerous from a social media standpoint, Dinstein added.  “Post-merger time is dangerous because it’s often the first time the two companies come together. The companies may have different cultures and practices and policies. One company may be wide open—i.e., tweet at will—and the other can be very different. Employees at the acquired company may not be thrilled with the new regime. It may not be possible to instantly cobble together a social media rule for the new company. 

“You may find employees venting in all kinds of destructive ways—unless the new company can move with extraordinary speed to train all employees on appropriate social media usage.”

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Interested in training your employees on how to use social media?  Check out the free July 14 webinar sponsored by Distribion, LIMRA, and Socialware on separating personal and professional use of social and digital media. Details and registration are available here

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About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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