Once upon a time, in a job far far away, most of my role was social media for one particular company. No two days were the same. It could be a brilliant day where everyone was lovely, or it could be a terrible day where everyone was angry. Death threats were not uncommon. Wishes of cancer were not uncommon. On my worst day, I sat at my desk in tears for nine and a half hours straight while angry tweets came pouring in.
Did I mention that I was the only person responsible for social media 24/7, and that I had no cover?
Anyway, one day the company got bought out and became very corporate. They told me that I would have help (yay! Finally!)…in the form of a “crisis management team”.
I laughed, because I thought they were joking. Turns out they weren’t joking. And people say I’m dramatic.
I was told that I should contact the crisis management team whenever there was a problem, and they’d tell me what to say. I admit, I rolled my eyes at this. I’d been doing this job for years. I had it down to an art. I knew exactly what to say before, during, and after, how to tailor it to each situation, and how each person would respond before they even knew how they would respond. Additionally, I had been asked to give a talk to other brands in the group about what I did and how I did it. I knew everything about the customers, even down to what they wore and what their pets were called. If someone didn’t tweet me for two years, I’d still remember them just from their avatar.
Still, I was new to the whole corporate thing and thought that the crisis management team could offer some new ideas. After all, they were professional crisis people. And I’d just made up my own decidedly non-corporate strategy, which definitely didn’t include pictures of Take That or Mr Potato Head, if anyone asks.
So next time there was a crisis, I emailed them. And waited. And waited. And waited some more.
Two hours later, which is a lifetime in both social media and the web industry, I got a response back. It was a generic, ‘We apologise for the inconvenience…’ type of message. Far too formal for Twitter, and exactly the kind of vague message that people get really angry about. Which is totally understandable, because it doesn’t actually say anything. (This is partly from experience, and partly because you have to continually whine at the technical people until they actually tell you what’s wrong and then tell you to go away because they’re busy, and then you have to translate it into human, and then you have to fit it into 140 characters. And you can’t do any of that stuff effectively if you’re in a different part of the country instead of the same building).
When I found out that there could only be a crisis between 9am and 5pm Monday-Friday, because that’s when the crisis management team worked, I gave up. I was there at 2am on a Sunday morning dealing with a crisis. I was there at 10pm on Monday. I was there all the time, crisis or not, complimenting people on their website, celebrating their new business, asking how their daughter’s first day at school went. I went back to Take That and Mr Potato Head, and no one really noticed (or cared)…apart from the customers, who never had to wait two hours for a response ever again (until I left).
Where am I going with this? Well, I believe you can learn something from every experience, and over the years I’ve realised that the crisis management team did teach me something important. When I doubt myself, or wonder if someone else would live my life better than me, or worry that I’ve made a mistake, or I’m not good enough, I’m reminded that I’m doing just fine. Just because I’m doing things differently doesn’t mean I’m doing a bad job, or that someone else could necessarily do it particularly better. I didn’t have a fancy team name or special training or brand-aligned messages. I had memes, industry knowledge, and passion.
I had all the tools I needed. And so do you.