8 steps to prepare for a Twitter attack

A nasty tweet denigrates your product or service—or, worse, your CEO—and gets retweeted again and again. Now what? Don’t get caught flat-footed; ready yourself with these tips.

How prepared is your organization for a social media attack?

If someone posts a defamatory tweet about you, your company or your products, are you prepared to do anything about it? How can you best prepare?

At the recent Strategic Corporate Communication and Research Conference, sponsored by the Institute for Public Relations and Prime Research, this subject prompted an enlightening and frightening discussion.

Cottage industries are addressing that very issue. Organizations are grappling with a key question: If a negative “tweet” is sent about them, how would they respond?

Can your organization prepare for an online assault? Here are basic guidelines in scenario planning and crisis preparedness should a damaging tweet come out of nowhere:

  1. Establish your own issues management team . This cross-functional/organizational team should regularly identify your vulnerabilities to an inflammatory online remark about your organization, your leaders, products, lawsuits, employees or operations. Also determine who might see them as targets for advancing a particular agenda.
  2. Know that damaging content can come from anywhere. Do you have adequate online monitoring staff and tools? If so, what is the range of sentiment, and is it worth investigating? If you spot smoke, determine whether there’s fire.
  3. Ready your strategy and specific tactics . The responses will differ if the attack targets your CEO rather your products. Develop the “what if” communications, and build on your agreed-upon key messages and supporting proof points. They might not be perfect, but you will have them vetted and ready should you need them.
  4. Develop ongoing content that conveys relevant and timely things about your company, your leaders and your products in online searches. Identify and promote content that positions your company well. Make sure your communications are 100 percent accurate. Showcase how your company addresses contemporary issues.
  5. Never forget: What flows inside leaks outside . Too often internal communications—those just for your own people—get shared online, generating reputational damage. Bear that in mind when crafting “staff-only” messages.
  6. Realize that bad news travels quickly . People connect through emotional contagions. That negative “tweet” can go viral with lightning speed, especially if it has an emotional element.
  7. Don’t delay nor leave things to chance. Enlist senior executives for your communications team, pointing out that it’s hard to create a response strategy through improvisation. Sell them with the cost-benefit analysis: Issues management costs a fraction of what you would spend handling a full-blown crisis. It’s worth the investment.
  8. Evaluate whether to respond . Consider who is going after you, and analyze the value of responding. Sometimes you must hold back; a reply might not serve you well.

RELATED: Join us for the Employee Communications, PR and Social Media Summit at Microsoft.

Consider, too:

  • Which channels are most important to you?
  • Who is sending the messages?
  • How frequently are they coming, and from where?
  • How volatile is the situation?

Each crisis should be evaluated on its merits. The basic tenets in crisis response also apply to social media. However, digital communications provide a platform for detractors to inflict reputational damage much more quickly. Be ready; respond wisely.

A version of this post first appeared on the Institute for Public Relations. Jacqueline Strayer is a faculty member in graduate programs at NYU and Columbia. She is a principal with Sound Advisory Group and previously was CCO for three global publicly traded companies. Follow her on Twitter @jfstrayer, or reach her at jfs2002@nyu.edu.


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