Threads That Entangle Your Crisis Communications

Will Facebook's new threaded comments trip you up in a crisis?

by Ike Pigott |

Facebook is rolling out its Threaded Comments for brand pages, and on the surface it seems to be a great tool for engagement.

However, not everything that is good for the one makes sense for the many.

A friend recently flagged me while watching the stream of Tweets coming from a conference, wondering if my eyebrow would do similar gymnastics. The rather innocuous advice being offered revolved around social media communications in a crisis:

“You need to engage the customers one on one, and answer each rumor or comment individually.”

That is not a verbatim, but it is close. It is also very close to driving your sanity – and your company – into the ground.

The word “crisis” has been abused in social media. Remember the Applebee’s “crisis?” It wasn’t much of a blip, even after Applebee’s did some ill-advised things. Remember that Motrin thing? Google it. Remember that one where the company said something dumb and someone got offended and the Consumerist post was linked by Mashable?

In the everyday world of social media, businesses ought to be friendly. If you’ve got the time and the bandwidth to greet your customers like the humans that you are, that’s fantastic. “Facebook is your Digital Lobby,” my friend David Griner would say.

But when you have a bona fide crisis — one that impacts your stock price, or halts trading altogether — one that dominates every headline in your sector or even the popular press — one that highlights a real disconnect between your actions and the promises you’ve made to your customers… you aren’t in the feelgood business.

Gamechanger Events Also Change the Rules

The value of social channels changes drastically in a crisis. Yes, you need a real-time and nimble forum for sharing your message. Yes, you need to maintain a constant push of information, because the moment you stay silent too long your detractors will fill the vacuum and set the agenda for you. But the real value of social channels in a crisis is in listening and intelligence.

When you detect that certain words are now trending along with mentions, or that some questions are suddenly showing up on your Wall, that is valuable information that needs to plug into your messaging strategy. When a rumor starts getting some wind behind it, you don’t attack the messengers! You take away the wind! Answering every single person is a nice gesture, but it is doomed to fail because you aren’t maximizing your time. Use that human resource to better purposes.

Which gets us back to Facebook…

Threads Fray With Loose Ends

The threaded comments are wonderful for one-to-one engagement. In a real crisis, they bog you down, and leave a lot of loose ends hanging. You’ve created the expectation that answers will come, and you won’t be in a position to deliver.

In a crisis, Flat comment streams may give you more bang for your buck. Facebook defaults to show the most recent 50 comments, which means that if your dip back into the line every 30 comments or so your response will be there and visible. The format forces you to be more general in your responses, which helps with focus on the big picture.

Do you want to toggle between the two? Not sure how that will work for your company, nor for the third-party tools you might be using.

New features are fine, and they are inevitable as social networks attempt to meet expectations and stave off future competitors. But just keep in mind that not every change works to your benefit, and unintended consequences abound.


About the Author

Ike Pigott

In his previous life, Ike Pigott was an Emmy-winning TV reporter, who turned his insider's knowledge of the news cycle into a crisis communications consultancy. At the American Red Cross, serving as Communication and Government Relations Director for five southeastern states, Ike pioneered the use of social media in disaster. Now -- by day -- he is a communications strategist for Alabama Power and a Social Media Apologist; by night, he lurks at Occam's RazR, where he writes about the overlaps and absurdities in communications, technology, journalism and society. Find out how you can connect with Ike or follow him on Twitter at @ikepigott. He also recently won the coveted "Social Media Explorer contributing writer with the longest Bio" award.