February 11, 2013
Social media crises are not as rare as you think. And, as with HMV and Tesco, it’s often the biggest brands that struggle to mitigate the risk.
Mistakes are easy to make: you only have to look at Tesco during the middle of the horse burger scandal when they allowed a pre-scheduled tweet to be sent to their 47,000 followers:
It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay! See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets
— Tesco Customer Care (@UKTesco) January 17, 2013
It immediately went viral, fuelling the existing crisis and leading to further reputational damage.
The question is how any brand, regardless of size, can reduce the impact of a social media crisis.
1) Alert system
Being able to spot the warning signs of a social media crisis is essential. By using monitoring tools you can watch activity surrounding your brand. But more importantly, you need people (or a person) to look at the data from monitoring. Issues can bubble fast, but they can also creep up on you. Human review is always best if you want to spot the early warning signs. An effective alert system means you can catch the crisis early; and early action can make all the difference.
However, you also have to remember your own social profiles. Problems can be caused, for example, by hoaxers registering under your brand name and pretending to speak for the company. In such an incident, a hoaxer responded to genuine customer comments on the Just Jeans Facebook page for 12 hours before Just Jeans realised and reacted. The quicker an issue is identified the faster action can be taken.
The problem with most social media crisis policies is that they are written and then never looked at until you are in the heat of crisis. They are just left dusty and unread, sitting on a shelf. They need to be a living, breathing document.
An established, well rehearsed and up-to-date procedure means the right person can react fast once a potential crisis has been identified. When a KitchenAid employee tweeted from the company account about Obama’s deceased grandmother it started a Twitter storm. However, the head of the brand, Cynthia Soledad, dealt with the situation as quickly and effectively as possible, minimising the effect of the crisis. There were no mixed signals, Soledad acted with autonomy and took charge of the situation. Knowing who should be at the centre of the response is key – and training ensures reaction times are as fast as social media demands.
You have identified a crisis and know who should respond: the third step is to engage your detractors. Essentially this means understanding your customers and, ultimately, your industry and business. Consistency and transparency are essential: to say what you are doing to rectify the situation and prevent it occurring in the future.
Humour can play a part. In 2011 Red Cross faced a potential crisis when an employee accidentally tweeted from the company account:
Coming from a non-profit organization this could have caused uproar amongst supporters. However, Red Cross reacted quickly and with humour, deleting the tweet and posting the following response:
This reassured supporters and diffused the situation. You can’t just delete a tweet, or not respond to a crisis. It will not go away – you have to take charge of the situation.
It may be impossible to prevent every social media crisis but you can certainly reduce the impact it has on your brand. Understanding your industry and how a crisis can unfold within it is essential.
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