Manage Your Online Reputation When Disaster Strikes

August 29, 2011
By Rhea Drysdale in Reputation Management

What follows is a look into how the City of Troy responded to disaster with takeaways you can immediately implement in your own business for online reputation, social media and SEO emergency preparedness. Prepare now. Act later.

Over the weekend, our little town of Troy, NY got hit by Hurricane Irene. By the time she was in our backyard the category 3 had calmed to a tropical storm. We sustained strong winds, but nothing too serious. Or so we thought.

The real problem was the rain. Lots and lots of rain. It kept coming, but by the end of Sunday it started to slow. That relief was short lived. Soon after the reports began to roll in about a mudslide wiping out businesses, dams in danger of breaking, boats being smashed to bits and water filling our streets. As a community, we’d forgotten about the most dangerous side effect in a river district — surface runoff.

You see, Troy, NY is nestled in this beautiful river valley:

There’s Outspoken Media! Oh wait, it’s surrounded by rivers. :(

With just 4.69 inches of rain, this happened to the Hudson’s water levels with the worst of it peaking right now:

Disaster struck a community that wasn’t expecting it, but we had a secret weapon that kept us all prepared in the midst of everything.

Mayor Tutunjian.

If you’re a fan of Outspoken Media, how amazing the Troy Mayor’s Office is shouldn’t be a new discovery, we’ve already discussed how the Mayor uses social media better than 99% of us. We got to see this in full force yesterday, through the night and into today. It was incredible to watch Mayor Tutunjian so quickly disseminate vital information through his Twitter account and respond the community’s concerns. More important, when news of a voluntary (and potential mandatory) evacuation broke, it didn’t come from the local news, it broke on Facebook and was promoted through Twitter! Eventually news picked up on the story, but much later.

The biggest problem was that the community didn’t trust or understand WHY news of this caliber would break on Facebook. They were questioning the validity of the news and wanted proof. Surely government officials wouldn’t use silly social media sites to spread serious news. Who posted that evacuation notice to the City of Troy’s Facebook page?

Someone smart. Someone informed. Someone who is using every tool at their disposal to quickly and efficiently touch the people that matter.

Social media isn’t a passing fad. It has become a part of how we communicate and live. If the Mayor’s ROI is in gaining the trust of his constituents, I would like to think (anecdotally) that after his response to the flooding of our city his approval ratings just soared. Regardless of whether you understand WHO was posting to Facebook or Twitter, news broke faster through those mediums than anything else. Within minutes connected individuals were knocking on doors and telling their neighbors to move their cars to higher ground. The Mayor effectively mobilized a city by touching a few through social media faster than he could have by any other means. That’s amazing and we should be taking notes.

So, what can we learn from Hurricane Irene and Mayor Tutunjian about emergency preparedness for reputation management, social media or SEO disasters?

  • Gather your advisors and trust them – Build a network of consultants, agencies and/or teams you trust to give you the facts and act in your best interest. Sometimes that means not going after the biggest fish, but staying true to yourself.
  • Plan for the worst, hope for the best – You should have a plan in place *before* disaster strikes. Learn from the misfortune of others, because acts of god and awful things can/do happen. You cannot plan for everything, but try to picture the absolute worst case scenario. What would you do? Once you’ve envisioned it and thought through your options the unknown will feel far less intimidating.
  • Implement an early warning system – If you aren’t already using an online reputation monitoring solution like Radian 6, Visible Technologies, Trackur or even just Google Alerts, you should be. If you don’t have a way to gather news about your business, products or service, you’re acting blind. You might a disaster brewing, but you wouldn’t know it until it was too late. Don’t let this happen. Find a solution that is cost-effective and easily managed. Learn how to use it and start monitoring those mentions.
  • Mobilize early – When you discover something disconcerting, put your plan into action. You should have scenarios built out and based on your discovery, you or a member of your team will know what to do. This may be as simple as further monitoring or as complex as implementing a coordinated PR/ORM/Marketing offense. Get everyone that needs to be involved in those decisions together early. If it’s nothing, you’ll have some practice under your belt for when the proverbial sh*t does hit the fan.
  • Communicate frequently – If disaster really has struck, make sure you’re communicating with your advisors for the most recent insight, your team who should be implementing your plan and your community who *needs* to know what is going on. If you’re in charge, you need to be transparent, timely and available for questions. There is no role more important, it will gain your communities’ respect regardless of whether you have all of the answers.
  • Act. – I’ve already discussed the importance of shortening your OODA loop to gain a competitive advantage. The same is true when recovering from a disaster. The sooner you make a decision, the sooner you will be on a path to recovery. If you make a mistake, you’ll find out sooner if you act now, which gives you more time to recover. If you didn’t make a mistake, perfect, you’re on your way. This is vital. The number one way to fix a reputation management problem is to get back to business. We (people) have this incredible capacity to forgive when things return to the status quo. If you made a mistake, fix the problem, apologize and get back to work. The only reason we’re disappointed is because we were a fan to begin with.

Troy, NY will bounce back from Hurricane Irene. Eventually, these waters will subside and we’ll be sipping Guinness at Ryan’s Wake remembering when:

How will you survive your future online reputation, social media or SEO disasters?

UPDATE – For those wondering, Outspoken Media’s office doesn’t appear to be in any danger of flooding and all is well. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bridges into the city closed and water is still rising, so we’re working from home today. Business as usual, just don’t have access to the more office-y things.

Also, Lisa had a vacation scheduled for today, but camping doesn’t mix well with hurricanes. Instead she’s our reporter in the field. Here’s some of the aftermath around the Capital District:

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