How to survive a Twitter mob

Sparking countless articles, broadcasts, and lawsuits, the college admissions scandal has confirmed suspicions many have harbored for years about higher education. The widespread outrage is mixed with amusement and irritation, but certainly not shock. Considering Felicity Huffman’s recent guilty plea and Lori Laughlin’s lack thereof, the reactions of those involved highlight the importance of planning for crisis situations.

According to Tunheim Principal and CEO Kathy Tunheim “It is important to have a strategy in place before the social media firestorm makes a bad situation worse. Navigating a crisis is always a challenge, but it is manageable when you are prepared.” Best practices include both a crisis management plan and team, with trainings to prepare for future crises. Moments like these can make or break an institution and it is important to have a comprehensive strategy mapped out to manage a catastrophic event.

While the accused celebrities – and colleges — at the center of the “Operation Varsity Blues” admission scandal focused on their newfound legal problems, their story was being shaped by journalists, and entertainment media. By ignoring the importance of speed in crisis management, these public figures allowed their actions to be defined by outsiders.

Speed is not the only important factor in responding to crises.

It is crucial to provide media contacts with accurate and consistent details. “The media and culture’s obsession with celebrity has kept the story from broadening,” says Tunheim chief insight officer and crisis management expert Patrick Milan. “The secret society makes it difficult to uncover the story. We live in an age with less journalists, who have less backing, who lack the resources to spend time digging deep.” With the reputation of many top institutions on the line, the scandal presented a set of circumstances where real change is possible. Every college involved in the cheating scandal issued a statement echoing a sentiment of victimhood. A spokesman for Yale said the university is a “victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women’s soccer coach,” Georgetown University described the scandal as “shocking, highly antithetical to our values, and violate numerous university policies and ethical standards,” and Wake Forest University said, “No other university employees, including admissions officers or other athletics staff, have been implicated in the investigation.” Each statement distances the institution in question from the blight of culpability. By claiming they were helpless in the face of corruption, the colleges attempt to remove the burden of responsibility. But are these claims enough to diffuse public outrage?

“It’s up to the universities to create a more transparent system that people understand,” Milan goes on to say.

“The only way to survive a true crisis is to take a hard look at yourself, declare a new day, and say how it’s going to be different in the future.”

Tunheim helps clients manage their reputations by staying aware of the constantly changing media landscape and alerting the client to any potential reputational hazards. It isn’t about if a crisis will happen, it’s about when it will happen. Tunheim supports clients by making planning a key foundation of crisis work. Crisis management is about more than putting out fires and playing the victim – it’s about complete transparency with your key stakeholders and being prepared for when a crisis arises. Tunheim helps clients grow stronger by transforming moments of crisis into positive triggers for growth.

Don’t risk the reputation of your organization by waiting for the worst to happen.

Let’s get to work.

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