So you’ve decided your organisation needs to communicate using social media. You’re marketing more effectively, building lasting relationships and carrying out stellar customer service.
That’s great. It’s milk and honey from now on then, right?
I’m afraid not.
Make no mistake: at some time your brand – every brand – will face some kind of crisis on the social web.
At the mild end, this might simply be in the form of sustained criticism about a service or product. Or it could be a lot worse.
Maybe Greenpeace will organise a hate-bombing campaign on your Facebook page because it believes you are destroying the habitat of the orang-utan. It happened to Nestlé.
Maybe your centerpiece product, supposedly one of the world’s strongest bike locks, will be opened in seconds by delighted bloggers using a Bic pen. It happened to Kryptonite.
Maybe your own staff will film themselves committing disgusting acts with food that is about to be served at your restaurant. It happened to Domino’s.
The results can be devastating for any brand.
A study by YouGov’s BrandIndex, which monitors public perceptions of millions of organisations like Domino’s, found that national perceptions of the restaurant chain’s quality fell from +5 positive to -2.8 in the 48 hours after its kerfuffle. That could mean tens of millions wiped off your stock value if you’re a multi-national company.
If you’ve tried Googling KFC anytime in the last few months, you’ll have noticed at least two out of the first ten results are for websites that make allegations of animal cruelty by the firm. The stains appear, at least for the time being, indelible.
Time and time again PR managers have made the mistake of believing it is possible to stop a crisis simply by removing negative material from the Internet. This is likely to have the exact opposite effect, attracting even greater publicity for whatever it is you want to disappear. This phenomenon is so well documented, it’s even got a name: “The Streisand Effect”.
You cannot stop a crisis it – but you can manage it. And here’s how:
You do NOT want to be the last to hear when your brand is being dragged through the wringer by the social media mob. Use monitoring tools like Tweetdeck (or the unsurpassable Radian6 if you’ve got a good budget) to keep track of mentions of your brand and/or products. Set up a Google alert. This is generally good communications practice but will come in particularly handy when keeping an eye out for an emerging crisis
When you see something worrying, the first thing you will need to do is weigh up its potential to damage your brand. You’re looking for three types of crisis:
- Rumours about your brand that are untrue or disclose potentially damaging information;
- Complaints about products not working the way they should;
- Challenges from stakeholders who think what your organisation is doing is morally wrong (like the Nestlé example above).
If you think comments fall into one of the above or are damaging in some other way ask yourself if it’s coming from an influential source and whether it’s spreading. If the answer to one or both of these questions is ‘yes’ then it’s time to slip into crisis mode.
3. DON’T IGNORE IT – ACT QUICKLY
When faced with a crisis the worst thing you can do is bury your head in the sand. It doesn’t need your consent or even your input to take on a life of its own. An hour is a long time in a crisis and 12 hours is enough time for it to gather enough momentum to do lasting damage. You need to act quickly and decisively, tackling the crisis head-on. That means acknowledging the comments and being seen to be listening, whatever the rights and wrongs. Be visible and refer to the kerfuffle on your main website. This will give people the impression you are in control and confident about dealing with the questions being raised. If you have a corporate line, agree it quickly and make your case clearly. Consumers demand ‘hyper transparency’ – not equivocation, dishonesty, obfuscation and confusion.
4. FISH WHERE THE FISH ARE
Be sure to communicate where the action is. In the case of Domino’s, they responded fairly quickly – but with a press release. Who reads press releases on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, where corporate statements are a turn-off? So the response was ineffective. A video as a first response (maybe of a good front-end employee bitterly criticising the actions of his rogue colleagues) would have been much more effective as it’s exactly the sort of thing that is consumed and shared on the social web. It could have been tagged with keywords like ‘nose-picking video’ etc so that people searching for the kerfuffle on Google would have found the company’s response as well as the damaging material.
5. BE POLITE – ALWAYS!
In the Nestlé case, the community managers used bad-tempered and sarcastic language and deleted posts from critics. The effect was to silence its own supporters who, up until that point had made the kerfuffle look like a 50/50 for and against debate. It also opened up a new front so the firm was defending allegations of poor relations-management as well as the original charges relating to conservation – a crisis on top of a crisis.
6. TAKE CONTROL OF THE KERFUFFLE
Kerfuffles can swamp Facebook pages. Often, when this happens, unrelated customer service enquiries can go unnoticed. Others who are not interested in the issue will become irritated. Think about moving the debate from the ‘wall’ onto a discussion tab or, better still, a dedicated blog or website. This will create order out of chaos and will help you maintain the normal running of the social web asset that has been hijacked. Don’t stand for rudeness or personal attacks. Show strength and authority as leader of a community, firmly but politely berating those who make ad hominem attacks and use foul and abusive language. An angry social media crowd is generally looking for both the strengths and the weakness of the people who respond on behalf of the brand. It will respect strength and will pounce on weakness, like mixed messaging or disingenuous promises.
7. REDIRECT THE KERFUFFLE
In the middle of the storm saying “thanks for your comments, we’ll pass them on” isn’t enough to deflect the anger. You need to put the high feeling and passion to a constructive use. How? By asking the audience for advice and suggestions about what to do. This will refocus the mob’s energy, shift control of the conversation to the community managers, position your brand as working with its detractors, not against them, and will put at your disposal the wisdom of what is essentially an ‘on-tap’ focus group
8. FOLLOW THROUGH WHEN THE CRISIS SUBSIDES
Ensure you thank people who commented and got you to think about your brand. Make use of their feedback so that they (potentially thousands of people) feel like they belong to the brand and that it belongs to them. Communicate your thoughts about it and how it has made your brand better a month, six months and a year later.
The absolute key is planning.
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
How will you respond when your crisis erupts? Have you thought about the sorts of crisis that could happen? Do you know what you’ll do?
I’ll leave you with ‘United Breaks Guitars’, a YouTube music video written and performed by Canadian musician David Carroll who claimed United Airlines negligently broke his guitar and refused to compensate him.
In the 18 months since it was released, it has been viewed nearly ten million times and has spawned countless thousands of newspaper, radio, TV reports on top of the Internet storm.
The Times newspaper reported that within four days of the video being posted online, United Airline’s stock price fell 10%, costing stockholders about $180 million in value.
Now that’s a crisis.