In the old days, crisis management used the printed press, radio and television to disseminate information about problems and what was being done to resolve them. Social media brings two new factors into play. The first, naturally enough, is that social networks are a new channel of communication that works differently. Information can be made accessible immediately and it can also be instantly forwarded by social media users to other users. The second is that social media also represents a source of crises. This latter factor may be the one that changes the crisis management landscape the most.

Notwithstanding eager investigative journalists, conventional media like the press have typically reported what has already happened. Oil spills, antifreeze in wine products or inhuman working conditions were all known to the organisation concerned before being made public. Organisations applied their crisis management to apologise, explain and appease through the newspapers and news broadcasts. With social media, a reputational crisis can spring up out of nowhere. Whatever the underlying truth, it can be rapidly fuelled by social media users and mushroom to become a serious and negative threat to the organisation.

Social media needs to be monitored if accusations are to be answered in a timely and appropriate way. Those tasked with the monitoring also need to know what constitutes a crisis to be sure to respond where necessary. A crisis that erupts on a particular social network usually needs to be handled via the same social network. For example, if criticism grows on Facebook about a product or policy, an explanatory video on YouTube may be ineffective – unless there is a clear link or embedding on the Facebook page. While other crisis management rules such as accepting responsibility, demonstrating concern, and telling the truth hold good whatever the medium, understanding the differences between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ media is important too.