At the end of October we met at the IBM Forum to revisit our understanding of crisis management. In an age where crises are more frequent and virulent than ever before communicators need a better understanding of how they can adapt to these changes. Recent examples include VW falling victim to a virulent online attack by Greenpeace, Egyptian activists using the web to mobilize support against Moubarak and IBM anticipating a social media crisis. No company, individual or government is immune to this new challenge.

Whilst at the event, I asked fellow speakers what they thought was the best way to tackle a social media crisis. Caroline Sapriel said ‘to put out a social media fire, you need social media water’. In other words, you cannot hope to handle, let alone manage a crisis in social media if you have no understanding, presence or engagement in social media. Aurelie (of ash cloud fame) talked about her personal experience at Eurocontrol and her recent experience with the European Council – where crisis management is a daily occurrence without using the word crisis. She believes the ability to adapt during a crisis is the key to success. Philippe Borremans shared some tools to cope with an online crisis and said he believes every communication team needs to be prepared and ready to act. Incidentally, one of his favorites tools is the use of wikis to collaborate and share information as well as blikis, a blog that is also a wiki. I confess I had not heard about blikis before.

I want to take this opportunity to step back and look at the wider context. Recent revolutions in the Middle East and riots in London have shown that social media can both accelerate and amplify popular movements. Despite the discussions online about the true role played by social media in these separate events, it is clear that they contributed to change.

I believe communicators need to learn to adapt their thinking and their behaviour if they are to successfully mitigate these crises. They need to be open to on-going learning and take charge of their ‘permanent education’. They need to become comfortable experimenting with new technology and make creative thinking a permanent skill. This is why my company and I created the concept of hyperthinking (download the eBook here). We believe the right mindset is the single most important factor in being able to face permanent change.

In practice this is also a team effort. Communicators need to convince their colleagues and senior managers of the importance of embracing new communication channels. This also means letting go of old dogmas or preconceptions and embracing the possibility that what we learned has not equipped us to face the changes of today’s world.

While working on your social media strategy and drafting your policy (also read the 5 myths of building a social media policy) it is important to keep the bigger picture in mind. You need to make social media fit in the wider communication and online strategy. (check Mission possible: 7 steps to building an effecting online strategy)

A good exercise is to test a new technology on a weekly basis. Even with a limited engagement you can create a Twitter profile for example, follow a few people and start engaging with them. You might choose to do this more or less depending on your personal inclinations, but the key is to spend enough time to get an understanding of the tool and be able to see it’s potential.

To help our clients with this we run a series of workshops called ‘Discovering and mastering social media’. We begin with the basics, then move to the exploration of relevant tools, how they fit the communication mix and how they can be applied to your needs and the organisation.

Drop us a line or a tweet, if you want to find out more.

Cross-posted from http://blog.zn.be/2011/hyperthinkers/crisis-in-a-social-media-world/