Who are you gonna call? Social media's 'ghostbusters' solve digital drama

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Victor Dlamini and Mike Stopforth saw a gap for a social media crisis consultancy. (Supplied)
Victor Dlamini and Mike Stopforth saw a gap for a social media crisis consultancy. (Supplied)
  • Organisational and personal crises have steadily moved out of traditional media and into the often more damaging digital space.
  • Many businesses only focus on how many likes their social media posts garner or how effective their influencer programmes are.
  • This is where Victor Dlamini and Mike Stopforth saw an opportunity to start a social media crisis consultancy.

When a business faces a crisis, the first 48 hours are critical, says Victor Dlamini, co-founder of social media crisis consultancy 48H.  

"It is during this time that it is vital to act smart and act fast," he explains.

He and co-founder Mike Stopforth saw the gap to start the consultancy to help brands and organisations manage a social media crisis quickly and effectively. 

"We are there to make sure that in those first critical hours, brand stakeholders have objective, experienced partners who can walk them through mitigating as much risk and long-term brand damage as possible," says Dlamini.

Dlamini and Stopforth's paths first crossed in the public relations and digital media industries in which they were active. They eventually became friends and often spoke about the possibility of doing work or building something together.

"Victor has extensive experience in reputation management and media relations and has watched with interest as organisational and personal crises have steadily moved out of traditional media and into the less predictable - and often more damaging - digital space," says Stopforth. 

They would often find themselves on a phone call or WhatsApp conversation with someone having to deal with social media reputation management and quickly realise the timing was perfect for a formal response - and 48H was born.

"Many brands and organisations invest for the good times - they focus on how many likes their posts garner, or how effective their influencer programmes are. They don't adequately anticipate or plan for what happens when social media goes awry."
- Victor Dlamini

"Managing an online crisis is one of the most demanding issues faced by organisations. We have the skills to assist in managing a crisis," says Dlamini.

"We have both been deeply immersed in the evolving nature of social media and have written extensively on its impact on business and society. Therefore, we can enable businesses to step back from the bubble of their ecosystem and share with them our deeply considered views."

Ghostbusters for social media

In the view of Stopforth, while several agencies offer some monitoring, reporting and consulting services around social media crises, the very nature of the agency business model presents challenges for both agencies and their clients when a crisis strikes.

"Brand crises are emotional, stressful moments in the life of any business. An objective, experienced voice goes a long way to alleviating that stress and avoiding the kind of response that makes the crisis worse than it already is," adds Stopforth.

"An agency already contracted to a client will find it hard to maintain objectivity in this moment, and perhaps even take a defensive stance - and this is the first way we differentiate ourselves." 

The second way 48H aims to differentiate itself is in the decision not to seek retainer-based relationships with clients but rather to engage only if and when needed. 

"Our business is as lean as possible, so the client pays for our expertise and involvement directly, and doesn't have to be concerned with the possibility of being handed off to a junior consultant, or bloated overheads. We're basically the Ghostbusters for social media. Or Men in Black, just without the cool suits - although Victor is always the epitome of style," says Stopforth.

"Because of this intention and focus, we do not compete with existing agencies and can rather act as a support system to them, ensuring their relationship with the client is not jeopardised by the crisis."

Challenges

Dlamini says Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of many technologies, but it has also given people more time to be on social media. So, paradoxically, Covid-19 made this process quicker.

Stopforth says the major challenge for businesses is their increased dependency on digital communication and advertising and the associated unpredictability, permanence and risk of these channels. 

"We hope to educate brands on how to be better prepared for these eventualities through proactive crisis management, auditing and strategy development, rather than being purely reactive when a crisis has already struck. Prevention is always better than cure," he explains.

A challenge Stopforth points out is to have a business realise early enough that help is needed with a social media crisis. 

"This will enable us to do our best work in dealing with what is essentially a marketing problem, and a relatively easy one for us to solve," he says.

"This business is the perfect amalgamation of Victor and my expertise, experience, passion and market need. We are very excited about the early response to the launch and can only see it going from strength to strength."

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