It was just a month ago, almost to the day, when the Twitterverse exploded with news that the lights went out during the Super Bowl game. 231,500 Tweets per Minute (TPM) to be exact. Okay, I admit the Beyoncé half-time show generated over 5 million Tweets, but Super Bowl XLVII will be remembered for its period of darkness, perhaps more so than the game itself.
Entergy New Orleans, the utility company powering the Superdome, quickly went into crises management mode. After all, they’ve had lots of communications experience powering the storm laden Gulf coast and southern states, and most notably having dealt with Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans back in August, 2005.
Social media has changed crises communications forever. The old way of assembling the crises team and calling in the PR firm to craft a corporate statement for a newswire service is so yesterday. You need to act swiftly, recognizing the hyper velocity and amplification of social networks!
Let’s look at the Entergy response to the crises which exhibits five key principles in crises management that are applicable to all companies:
1) Listen and Monitor
Companies need to listen and monitor the conversations taking place on social channels, gaining insight on specific keywords and brand mentions related to them or their industries. Entergy monitored the social universe and posted power outage news updates on Facebook and Twitter soon after the lights went out:
2) Social Media Crises Management Plan
Setting up your social media platforms is easy, but having a social media crises management plan in place, including all possible scenarios and business escalations is much more challenging. Entergy was prepared as they posted updates throughout the week.
In fact, the first formal statement came from Entergy and the Superdome the following day saying a piece of equipment monitoring electrical load sensed the abnormality and opened a breaker, partially cutting power. The companies also appropriately announced that a third party would be jointly selected for an assessment as they undertake their own root cause analysis. Yes, bringing third parties in is always a good strategy.
3) Don’t Deny the Issues
Crises management first requires good “listening” followed by a tactful approach in understanding the facts and presenting a response in a clear, straightforward manner. No corporate speak here! In fact, you’re going down a slippery slope if you find yourself having to respond repeatedly to the same audience.
Here are some additional recommendations if this were a major crises of much larger magnitude of what Entergy faced:
- A company should consider a crises toll-free hotline number and launch a special microsite providing all the needed information in one place, complete with FAQs.
- A special Facebook page or Twitter handle can be created for enhanced customer service, as well as be used to limit the social dialogue and conversations to one social network.
- It’s important to let people vent and for companies to be responsive to individuals. Take people off-line if possible for further social visibility containment and quicker problem resolution.
4) Involve the Top Brass
Whenever a major crises or disaster is taking place, the company President should be visible, acting as the principal spokesperson. It’s noteworthy that Charles Rice, President and Chief Executive Officer of Entergy New Orleans (seen on the right below next to a Superdome official in this AP photograph) made himself available to the press throughout the week following the game:
5) Provide Closure
Closure on the issue came soon after the Sunday game, on the following Friday, February 8th (five days later) when a media release was issued. Charles Rice again expressed his regret and outlined the identification and removal of a faulty electrical relay device:
“While some further analysis remains, we believe we have identified and remedied the cause of the power outage and regret the interruption that occurred during what was a showcase event for the city and state,” said Charles Rice, president and chief executive officer of Entergy New Orleans.
Although Entergy didn’t commit fully to continuing the third party assessment when addressing the media on February 8th, the utility and the manufacturer of the relay were confident their investigation pinpointed the equipment failure point. I haven’t read anything since on this issue, so closure appears to have been achieved.
A Social Media Touchdown
Entergy scored a big social media “touchdown” in their Super Bowl crises management. The playbook was obviously well planned and notably executed. I enjoyed following their communications stream over the week and seeing theory put into practice.
I welcome your comments on social media crises management.