Social Media and Crisis Communication

Before I came back to school and started taking communication coursework, I was oblivious to the term “social media.”  I was familiar with Facebook, Twitter and all the other social networking sites but I was not interested in sharing everything nor did I concern myself with other’s activities.

For me, I felt like it was too much of an invasion of privacy.  I had more of a mentality like: “Here, look at some of my pictures from summer vacation” and “Look at the dog, isn’t she cute?”  For me, Facebook and Twitter were only sources to catch up with family and long-lost friends.  After taking some courses and listening to Mary Henige speak last week, I have a renewed understanding of how to utilize social media to its full potential.

Last week, our PRSSA Professional Advisor, Mary Henige, spoke to our chapter in its first professional development activity of the semester.  Henige and the team of social media guru’s at General Motors handled a crisis of a lifetime – one of the largest automotive companies in the world claiming bankruptcy.

As always, image is everything.  At the time of bankruptcy, GM’s image needed to be shown in a positive light.  Dealerships were closing, layoffs seemed never-ending and they were dropping popular brands from its line.  GM had to go back to square one and focus on building consumer relationships and changing their perceptions.

The social media crew went straight to the consumer.  They utilized the immense popularity of Facebook and Twitter and shared the news of the recovery.  They fielded tough critiques and provided up-to-the-minute information on the latest product coming off the line.

Also assisting in social media was former CEO, Fritz Henderson.  With some training from his children, Fritz “tweeted” with consumers across the nation who were curious about the future of the company.  Fritz set an example that all ages and all professions can prosper from the tools social media provides.  Facebook and Twitter are no longer used only by the younger generations, as a multitude of companies have shown, these two examples of social media continue to grow each day.

Henige expressed that during crisis, consumers want to hear from companies now.  Social media has met that expectation by delivering news the second it happens but it also delivers it in a “more human” approach.  Compared to the earlier forms of crisis communication, social media humanizes the company which enables the consumer to genuinely relate.

Along with introducing us to examples on how to handle crises with social media, Henige continued with her passion of educating future professionals, especially WSU students.  In a troubled job market, Henige provided future PR practitioners some simple but necessary to-do’s to strengthen your collegiate career and make you marketable upon graduation:

  • Be Prepared
  • Show Up
  • Get Involved
  • Work Hard
  • Keep Learning
  • Help Others

Mary’s contribution to Wayne State PRSSA is invaluable.  The opportunity we have to utilize her knowledge and experience as a professional of a global company is an experience very few chapters possess.  Thank you, Mary, for your contribution and, as a chapter, we look forward to the next meeting.

This is a post from Wayne State PRSSA VP of Communications Thomas Roy.


One response to “Social Media and Crisis Communication

  1. Tom,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and well written post. I enjoyed my WSU visit and the excellent questions I received. I’m glad I was able to broaden your view about how to use the social web in a crisis.


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