3 ways MSNBC optimizes social media to handle crises

The organization’s SVP of communications says that online platforms have become ‘the best vehicle for PR.’ Consider these insights for protecting your organization’s reputation through a range of networks.


In today’s news cycle, crises can appear—and grow exponentially—within hours.

Social media platforms are behind much of the ramped-up speed. To avoid a communications meltdown that can negatively affect (or permanently destroy) your organization’s reputation, it’s imperative that you’re prepared.

“Every organization should have a crisis plan,” says Errol Cockfield, senior vice president of communications for MSNBC.

However, not all crisis response strategies are created equal. Here are several insights you can glean from Cockfield to perfect your crisis response:

1. Build an effective (and social-friendly) strategy.

Simply having a plan is not enough. Your strategy must address the situation, be directed at the proper audience members and employ the most effective members of your organization who can quell backlash and help rebuild your brand image.

Cockfield says your crisis strategy should contain four key elements:

  • Assess: Identify your organization’s vulnerabilities and rank them in order of the fastest moving or most damaging threats to your brand. Prioritize plans to strengthen or respond to the largest vulnerabilities first.
  • Prepare: Organize a crisis response team and select a spokesman. Draft statements with language that can address certain situations, but also matches your organization’s brand voice. Identify which resources you’ll use to monitor the crisis, such as social listening tools.
  • Train: Create and execute crisis simulations that involve your response team (or your entire workforce, as applicable and necessary). Also include media training exercises and ensure your spokespeople, executives and subject-matter experts are properly trained for interviews with reporters, press conferences and other media opportunities.
  • Learn: Compile a list of crucial takeaways from crises and use those bullet points to evaluate your crisis strategy. Take especial note of areas where your team or organization could improve, and use that to adjust future crisis response materials, messages and overall strategy moving forward.

Learn more from Cockfield at Ragan’s PR & Media Relations Conference at PayPal, April 16-18 in New York City. He will join speakers from Spotify, Reuters, Kroger, National Geographic Foundation and more.

2. Integrate social media efforts into crisis communications.

The advent and growth of social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat have changed the PR landscape and the way PR pros communicate with their audiences.

“For years PR practitioners spoke about digital [media] as if it was a separate skill set or another tool. Nowadays public relations has to be digital through and through, otherwise you’re failing at it.”

In some ways, social media provides bigger challenges, such as a quickly moving news cycle. In other ways, social media has provided PR pros with a huge opportunity to grab attention and take control of the narrative.

“Social media is the best vehicle for PR,” Cockfield says.

Communicators can take advantage of technology and social media to steer a situation’s narrative and build or repair your organization’s reputations, but you must make social media efforts an integrated and integral part of their overall efforts. You should also be up to date on social media changes and consistently build your skill set to handle new best practices.

“PR teams need to be fully integrated into the digital functions within their organization so both are working seamlessly and understanding where innovation is headed in real time,” Cockfield says.

3. Don’t forget the foundations of crisis response.

“In today’s fast-moving environment where runaway narratives are hard to fight, it’s important to compile assets that help you correct the record online quickly,” Cockfield says.

Crisis response assets include timelines that give readers an overview of the situation (including the events that led up to it, if necessary) and what you’re doing to remedy the crisis.

You can also use graphics and charts that further help consumers understand information, fact sheets that highlight your organization’s key messages along with helpful information, FAQs, and one-page explainers that give a easily-skimmed explanation of the crisis and what your organization plans to do, along with any next steps readers should take.

Ensure that as many of your crisis response assets fit the channels you must use to reach your target audiences and are tailored accordingly. The more social media friendly your materials are, the better chance they have of being spread online, helping you to stay ahead of the news cycle.

“When done well, these are easily shared by influencers and members of the media,” Cockfield says.

Don’t forget that building your organization’s reputation can go farther than the best crisis response plans.

“I’ve long believed that the best defensive PR is promotional,” Cockfield says.

He also argues that PR pros who don’t continually execute comprehensive campaigns can miss out on opportunities to boost brand image and reputation ahead of a crisis.

Cockfield says:

If you don’t do this, a negative situation can redefine your brand. You always need promotional work filling a basket of goodwill so that negative attention doesn’t destroy your good name. Silence is no longer really an option. You have too articulate milestones, goals, purpose and values on an ongoing basis through a variety of mechanisms.

You can glean additional insights from Cockfield at Ragan’s PR & Media Relations Conference at PayPal, April 16-18 in New York City. He will deliver the event’s closing keynote address and join speakers from ESPN, Pfizer, PayPal, Monster and more.

(Image by Tony Webster)


One Response to “3 ways MSNBC optimizes social media to handle crises”

    Adjetey says:

    This is very educative and insightful. Will like to receive weekly tips and perhaps some materials on PR since I am a PR student. Thanks

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