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If your company doesn’t have a Social Media plan for a crisis, you’re sunk. A recent unfortunate issue (from many perspectives) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) provides us with a example of how complicated and fast-moving an emotional issue can evolve in social media.  Let’s review what happened, what CHOP did /didn’t do, and offer up some actionable advice for you and your social/PR team.Background
  • A Mom with a developmentally delayed daughter was eagerly awaiting her daughter’s potential new kidney transplant. She met with a doctor and social worker at CHOP and was told that her daughter was ineligible for a transplant because she was, in their words “mentally retarded”.
  • Mom blogged about her less-than-positive experience with CHOP.
  • A day later, an online petition was started, the parenting and healthcare blogging community took up her cause, and the web was abuzz with her story. The twitter hashtag #teamamelia was even a trending topic on Twitter for a few hours last week.
  • Hundreds of angry moms and dads then took to CHOP’s Facebook page and vented-and are still venting today....
CHOP’s response
  • 3 days after the original blog post (a Friday) they posted the following on their Facebook Wall- statement #1
statement 1
  • The following Monday they made statement #2 as their “Welcome Tab”. You weren’t able to comment or read their Wall without reading this first
statement 2
  • No Twitter response from their Twitter handle (@chop)
  • Smart move to put up statement #2 as a “gate” on their Facebook Wall as a quick and easy way to educate and inform angry (and some supportive) fans before heading over to CHOP’s wall
  • Do you notice the difference between statement #1 and statement #2? The first one looks like a legal disclaimer, the second one is much friendlier, right? Don’t you think they should have started with statement #2 as the crisis began?
  • They did NOT respond via Twitter, which in this case, was ok. They did not need to disseminate additional breaking news. The story was already out there. If it were Tylenol recalling aspirin, that's an entirely different story.
  • There is an unsubstantiated rumor that they initially deleted the first batch of negative comments on Friday. If true, that’s a definite NO-NO.
   RecommendationsSo, what can we learn from this, and recommend to our Corporate Communications, Public Relations, or Social Media teams?
  1. ALWAYS be listening. Use a Social Media Monitoring service (or at the very least, daily Google Alerts) for company mentions. Include key words of notable employees, doctors, spokespeople, financial officers, etc.  If CHOP had been actively listening, perhaps they could have quickly approached the Mom with a response the next day? An email, a phone call, or if possible, even an in-person visit from someone from the hospital? At the very least, a quick acknowledgement of the issue, not silence.
  2. Have a Plan. Obvious one, right? Make sure you have the appropriate channels lined up and ready with a statement. At the VERY least, have a pre-approved statement that's already cleared to go. For example, a Twitter-ready statement could read."Our team has just learned of (insert crisis here) and will respond shortly. Thanks for your patience"  For those of you with multiple twitter accounts- identify one account as the Crisis account.
  3. 24 Hour approach. Remember, this incident got social media "legs" over the weekend. Have appropriate resources ready.
  4. Watch your language and tone. Don't speak in corporate mumbo-jumbo (see statement #1) above. Honesty and sincerity goes a looooong way.
  5. Use video. Have someone always on call to be available for a one minute or less, video statement. It doesn't have to be shot in a studio with HD cameras and makeup. Just make sure you have a microphone (cordless or not) a tripod (no-one likes a shaky camera) and obviously practice this a few times. Having a face or voice to humanize your response goes a long way. Here's an example of Domino's quick response after the infamous "prank" video.
So, are you ready for a crisis?