In terms of social media and online crisis management, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learned in 2012?

It’s not so much something I’ve learned but rather something many top executives haven’t yet learned – the importance of social media monitoring. A survey conducted in 2012 by Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance of 180 top CEOs, senior executives, and corporate directors reported that only 32 percent said their companies monitor social media to identify risks. With people spending more time on social media than ever before, what companies don’t know definitely can hurt them. What seems like a relatively small piece of misinformation online has the potential to spread like wildfire. Companies can use social media monitoring as an early warning system against these potential threats. They can identify potentially harmful content and conversations and move to mute such misinformation before it spreads in a harmful way. There’s a variety of monitoring tools available, some that are very good and others that are less useful. Companies need to realize that the real key is to have qualified social media specialists who can properly interpret the raw conversations that are detected and evaluate the validity of the metrics the monitoring tools provide. Analyzing the data to dictate necessary actions on the part of the company is the ultimate end game. Knowing when and how to respond and when to hold back is essential when engaging in reputation management communications online.

What forecast and advice can you give to companies and organizations for their online crisis management in 2013?

Be proactive in using social media during non-crisis situations. In social media communications, what you do before a crisis happens can impact how well your company is able to communicate during a crisis. For example, on Facebook, people’s News Feeds are becoming increasingly cluttered because of the sheer volume of friends and organizations they’re connected to on the site. Facebook does not place every post from people and organizations that a person is connected to in that person’s News Feed. Facebook chooses the content its algorithm determines is the most relevant to that person and places only those posts in that person’s News Feed at any given time. Taking time to understand Facebook News Feed’s Algorithm and leveraging that knowledge to your advantage will help ensure that your posts earn placement in as many of your fans’ News Feeds as possible. Then, when a crisis is unfolding and you need to get out information fast, especially when people’s safety may be on the line, there is a good chance your post is going to return in the News Feeds of your fans. Of course, companies can use the paid “Promote Post” feature to help increase visibility for a particular post on Facebook as well. Typically, though, I’ve found that the companies that already have strong, engaged followings established on social media sites before a crisis hits are the most effective at communicating during a crisis. Also, if it’s the type of crisis where your reputation is under attack, people your company have previously built a strong rapport with online will often come to your defense. That type of support can be invaluable.

What tools, channels and/or online strategies do you foresee as being the most crucial to a company’s online reputation management in 2013?

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, almost half of American adults own smartphones and a quarter of American adults now own tablet computers. These statistics are on a steep upward trajectory. For example, back in 2010, Pew reported that only 4 percent of American adults owned a tablet, and that figure has jumped to 25 percent in just two years. At the same time, traditional PC sales are in decline. Considering this trend, it should come as no surprise that mobile internet use is on pace to overtake wired internet use in the foreseeable future. This has important applications to how companies communicate during a crisis. Companies should have mobile-specific versions of their websites or their sites should at the very least be optimized for viewing on mobile devices. The rise in mobile use also means that communicating through social media channels during a crisis will continue to become an increasingly important part of the crisis communication equation. Mobile devices and the use of social media go hand-in-hand. According to a new report released by Nielsen, social media use on mobile apps and the mobile web increased 63 percent in 2012. The trend is clear – smartphone and tablet ownership continues to increase, and people are accessing social media using those devices. Having a well-established social media presence will allow companies to have a voice in which to reach people on those mobile devices during a crisis.