There’s no such thing as a social media crisis

There’s a conversation I’ve been having over the past few years about the devastating impact of social media crises. This, therefore, will be a post in two parts – one to give my point of view (check), and another one after a few of the trolls get nice and shouty about how I’m a technological dinosaur fascist.

I’m happy to report that social media crises don’t exist, and therefore, by extension, have no impact. Happy days for you – you can go about polluting the environment the same as always, safe in the knowledge that millions of people won’t suddenly start harassing your brand via the internet.

Oh, hang on. But that’s exactly what they do. So surely social media crises do exist?

Something else that doesn't exist

This seems to be the logic that pervades the social media crisis mindset. From what I can gather, a social media crisis basically equates to someone slagging you off on the internet, loudly and frequently enough that a whole bunch of their mates join in and make you look, frankly, like a bit of a prick.

Yes, I agree this is damaging to your reputation. But probably no more so than if you make a rubbish product. Or if you are, in fact, a bit of a prick.

This is where the underlying tension…underlies. ? The argument in favour of social media crises goes a bit like this:

Reputation is important for business (yes), a crisis of reputation can damage your business (yes), people talking about your business can enhance or damage your reputation (yes), the internet is full of people talking about your business (yes), and, a whole lot of shouty people on the internet complaining about your business will damage your reputation…ergo, a social media crisis thou hast! (yikes!!)


I have horrible, dreadful news for you. People are already slagging you off. Right now, while you’re sitting there reading this. People are saying mean, nasty, spiteful things about your organisation right at this very minute. You’d better get onto that.

Except…you can’t. They’re out there alright, slagging away. But they’re doing it in pubs. They’re doing it at the school gate. They’re doing it over the dinner table. Probably some of them are even doing it at Julia Gillard’s BBQ. Even if they’re not on the internet, it’s happening. And you can’t do much about it.

Unless you’re violating either of Muir’s Laws of the internet.

Muir’s Second Law clearly states: Don’t be a ****. The thing is, when people complain about you, it’s either because you are a) being a ****, or b) perceived as behaving like a ****. And in either instance, if you’re a company or organisation of some sort, chances are the first thing someone will do if they believe you’re behaving like a **** is call you. Maybe they’ll write an email. Or a letter, perhaps scented with some kind of happiness inducing pheromone.

The reason for this is because people preferentially want you to resolve their issue than to just give you a public smacking.

I believe this is a really important distinction because of the way it affects decisions that get made “in the room”. If you’re wondering where “in the room” is, you haven’t been there before. The room is where crisis management decisions get made, and in the room, clear, simple thinking is paramount.

Clear, simple thinking enables you to objectively evaluate whether you spend 20-30 thousand dollars on a social media jedi consultant, which blows out over the coming weeks as a couple of hundred detractors swell to a couple of thousand…or, whether you turn off the tap pumping toxic sludge into the native wetland 200 metres away from your shed.

This is really the basis for my argument. Nothing exists solely on the internet. The internet is just a connection of stuff (I think I’ve gone here before) put there by real live humans. Even if only one person knows about it, it exists off the internet. A social media crisis is therefore an incredibly dangerous label that masks a much bigger problem.

There is always a real-world problem that sits at the root of the issue.

What’s great about this though is that the underlying problem is going to be either something you are doing/have done, or something you’re perceived to be doing/have done. This is a much easier thing to manage than public outcry via the internet, because once you get more than a handful of individuals fired up online and talking amongst themselves, getting them to climb down from the ceiling becomes disproportionately harder, and much more expensive.

So next time you see someone on Twitter tweet a #socialmediacrisis, look first for the underlying real world problem behind the story before jumping face first into the next maelstrom of collective brain explosions that form the basis of most of the online lynch mobs you’ll come across.

This entry was posted in Business, Communication, Crisis, PR, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to There’s no such thing as a social media crisis

  1. Nice piece Grant.

    It’s reminded me that I need to finish something I started a while ago about how there’s no such thing as *social* media.

    Then we just have to round up all the ninjas, jedi, super heroes, and other snake-oil selling wing-dings and put them to work doing something useful for a change.

    • grantsmith8 says:

      Cheers, thanks Sean. I have to confess I have no vested interest in whether or not the *social* tag has a continued lifespan, although obviously in my day job there’s an element of working with the myriad platforms that fall under the banner. That said, I’m far from qualified to call myself a ninja. Looking forward to reading your piece.


  2. Way to go mister, beautifully put.

  3. Pingback: H+K Strategies UK's Blog » Blog Archive » Web Curios

  4. LouPardi says:

    Brilliant piece.

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