On Thursday, March 16 2017, the corporate Twitter account of fast-food giant McDonald's got hacked. This resulted in a now widely-copied and shared tweet which directly attacked U.S. president Donald Trump. Whilst the social media team took down the message and apologised swiftly, the tweet has caught on like wildfire.
According to Reuters, the hijacking of McDonald's official corporate account came only a day after a number of major organisations, government agencies, executives and other users with large followings were hacked.
Amidst the turmoil of this social crisis for one of the world's largest organisations, the question now is how professionals can handle social media crisis effectively in the face of cybersecurity threats.
Getting your organisation ready
In January this year alone, there were over 400,000 web attacks blocked per day, according to Symantec data. This number doesn't include phishing emails, scams or other security threats – giving an insight into the sheer volume of attacks organisations deal with on a daily basis.
So how can businesses brace themselves for these attacks? Organisations need to actively become more protective of their data. Instead of simply acknowledging there is a chance of getting attacked, businesses need to act and improve their security measures before damage is done.
The key thing with this of course is to determine the biggest risks to an organisation's integrity. And whilst even experienced communication professionals aren't expected to be IT whizz', having an understanding of the threats to an organisation's reputation when security is compromised is highly valuable.
Based on our investigation, we have determined that our Twitter account was hacked by an external source. Read more: https://t.co/X5NwVI5sKp
— McDonald's (@McDonaldsCorp) March 16, 2017
How to handle social media crises
McDonald's Trump tweet was a prime example of a social media crisis situation. As with all such issues, communication specialists need to be highly responsive when things go wrong on social media. The catch though is that thanks to the internet, they have to do so under even more time-pressure than usual.
In this case, McDonald's deleted the tweet, apologised and explained what had happened in a timely matter. This, alongside the fact that Trump hasn't tweeted at the organisation directly means the incident might only be a short-term issues. That is at least what director of intelligence at L2, Mike Froggatt, told Reuters.
"Twitter trending topics last for maybe 6 hours, a backlash for 10 to 12 hours and then it goes and the herd moves on," he said.
For the communication professional looking to learn from this highly public case, it's clear how important transparency, admittance to faults and regular updates are to smooth a crisis like this. McDonald's was quick to point to the fact that their account had been compromised and responded efficiently.
Of course there are those Trump supporters who, despite this, are now calling for a boycott of the fast-food chain. Whether this will eventuate is to be seen, yet from a professional's perspective, the team at McDonald's dealt with the crisis well and likely averted any more dramatic turns to the story by taking the tweet down fast.
However, the underlying problem of security breaches of one of the world's leading social media platforms will now be a key concern for many. Will communication specialists need to respond to such cyberattacks more frequently or is it a question of employing better security measures?
Communication is all about conveying key messages to stakeholders in every situation. As such, preparing for worst-case scenarios such as being victim to a cyber attack should be just as much a part of a communication professional's working day as dealing with analogue issues.