November 9, 2012
When FEMA officials used Twitter to announce a “rumor control” section of the federal agency’s website, the action signaled both the good and bad of social media. As InformationWeek.com reports, the micro-blogging site was a source of critical information during Hurricane Sandy, but it also became an avenue for inaccurate reports that created potentially dangerous confusion among storm victims and emergency-response teams alike.
The false reports that spread on Twitter provide a lesson that also applies to how enterprises handle their interactions with customers, partners and competitors. In an age of instantaneous communications, companies face serious damage by letting false information linger for even a few hours. According to Niklas Myhr, an assistant professor at Chapman University, organizations need to cultivate social media followings ahead of time so that they can discredit false reports when they strike.
Social media can also be used as competitive PR tools, Myhr says. A business might use social media to congratulate a competitor for its accomplishments, for example, allowing the business to infiltrate news cycles that would otherwise be focused only on the competitor. And if a company reacts quickly to criticism from a consumer on Twitter, the customer often feels silly for his or her aggressive behavior and might even post an apology. — Greg Beaubien