Would you be ready if your charity were bashed online?

publication date: Apr 7, 2011

Whether it's unjust, unfavourable or just misinformed, harmful word-of-mouth travels at the speed of social media - in other words, faster than most organizations know how to respond. Would it ever happen to your charity? Why would people bother?

Let's look at a few scenarios that could trigger critical posts, tweets and updates in the moment it takes for someone to become offended or impatient, or as part of a deliberate campaign opposing your work:

  • You've done a great job of positioning your leaders as advocates or subject matter experts. Someone with a Twitter account and a crowd of followers mounts a hostile challenge to your CEO's recent public comments.
  • Your programs depend in part on government funding. A partisan debate rages about the appropriateness of funding your kind of work or your charity in particular.
  • In a natural disaster or other emergency, your site is the go-to site for stakeholders needing information on staying safe, people searching for news of relatives and friends, or donors wanting to know if "their" foster child, sponsored water pump or designated village survived.
  • Your mission is controversial, your values aren't universally shared, or a certain group would be better off economically if you failed.
  • You carry out your mission in a region vulnerable to political disturbances or natural disasters.

What to think about - right now

Hmm, so it's more likely than you thought. Crisis management expert Jonathan Bernstein has a few questions for you to consider - in advance - so that you'll be prepared if such a crisis actually happens. Here's his list, adapted for nonprofits.

  • Do you have a very Internet and social media-savvy staff member or consultant on your crisis management team? If not, he says, the rest of these questions are moot. Your car is heading for a brick wall at high speed, and you aren't wearing a seatbelt.
  • Are your spokespersons trained in the differences between online and offline communications?
  • How closely do you monitor the Internet for current or potential reputation threats?
  • How closely do you monitor the Internet for early reports of crises, disasters-in-progress, or incidents that can escalate crises or disasters? Often Twitter is the first place with news of such incidents.
  • Do you have a system for rapid and concurrent distribution of information to prominent social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube?
  • Have you considered the use of a virtual (online) incident command system to allow crisis team members to meet, exchange and disseminate information remotely from a single online location?
  • Do you have a disaster-related "dark site" (website or blog that only gets "turned on" during a crisis) to support communication with external stakeholders?
  • Can you use Internet-centered communications to reach all of your important stakeholder groups in the event of disasters or other crises?
  • Do you know the capability of your primary website and server to handle the mammoth increase in traffic that might result from a disaster without crashing?

Now you know where your gaps are. Bernstein advises that the more you can fill those gaps, the more capable you'll be if a natural disaster or public relations crisis hits your charity.

Jonathan Bernstein shared these tips on www.ragan.com.

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