Social Media’s Role in Crisis Management

CU staff must use new technology intelligently to survive in today’s crisis-ridden ‘reputation economy.’

November 22, 2011

What you and your staff say on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites can directly affect your credit union’s reputation. Social media platforms have introduced new challenges in maintaining organizations’ reputations, especially during crises, according to a white paper from CUNA’s Marketing and Business Development Council.

In addition to the challenges, social media sites also bring great opportunities. For example, direct communication between organizations and their stakeholders is easier in some respects.

But credit union staff, notes the report, must use new technology intelligently to survive in today’s crisis-ridden “reputation economy.” Make sure you and your staff are clear about your credit union’s social media policies and responsibilities.


New challenges

Today the power of the message lies with the individuals in the virtual community, not only with the business itself. In addition to monitoring consumers’ perceptions and reputation risks, credit unions must guard against increased risks of fraud, robbery, false online rumors, natural disasters, cyber-attacks, and employee/management misconduct.

When any of these events occur, staff who are active on social media platforms can help dispel concern and answer members’ questions. “A truly sustainable reputation has the potential to buffer an organization from the negative fallout of a crisis,” notes the white paper.

New opportunities

Credit unions can now communicate with members in multiple ways. More than 85% of American consumers have mobile devices, according to Direct Marketing News.

Mobile technology gives users a sense of connectedness to the world and limits uncertainty, says the council white paper. And credit union staff can use it to connect members to the credit union.

Social media platforms are a direct communication channel to members. The credit union and its staff, however, shouldn’t limit communication efforts to high-tech platforms, the report suggests. Instead, they should create the best messages, then share them through social and traditional media (television, radio, and newspapers).

Note that your credit union’s reputation isn’t determined only by information you “push” to members and potential members. It also depends on their reactions.

Monitor perceptions about your credit union on all platforms—even the ones you don’t use directly. Keep in mind that the most popular social media platforms will change over time, and follow all of them carefully.

Next: Best practices

Follow these best practices to use social media effectively:

• Include new technology and new media practices in daily routines. Set aside time, for example, to monitor social media channels for discussion about your credit union. This will help you detect and prevent potential risks that could become crises.

• Stimulate conversations about known issues with stakeholders. This gives members a chance to be heard. Ensure conversations are professional, proactive, and manageable.

• Connect with people proactively, before a crisis, to establish transparent relationships. This creates credibility and trustworthiness, and helps build social capital.

• Incorporate established business theories and elements. They still matter today.

• Be consistent across all social media platforms and traditional media outlets, especially during a crisis. Ensure the same content is quickly and easily accessible across all communication platforms.

• Create targeted messages for different media, audiences, and angles. Test possible scenarios in training, so you’ll know how to respond quickly and effectively.

• Remember: Using social media to establish a solid reputation is a long-term process. But crises can happen fast. Be prepared; small events and reactions do matter.

• Learn about new factors and implications in crisis communication. Training before a crisis can help you prepare to be more effective when it happens. Participate in regular crisis simulations with public relations professionals, government agency professionals, business owners, and others.

All members, staff, and volunteers are part of a credit union’s reputation, so all should know the risks, challenges, and opportunities of social media. Be prepared to use it effectively, especially during crisis situations.

LIBBY VERTZ is an intern in CUNA’s business-to-business publishing department. Contact her at 608-231-4096.

This article first appeared in Front Line Newsletter.