In today's 24/7 world, social media enables organizations to communicate with millions of customers across the globe in real-time. For customers, this means they now have the power to either appreciate something or vent their issues in a very public space. What does this mean for marketers? With so much going on, a social media fiasco is sometimes unavoidable and unpredictable, signaling the need for a robust crisis management plan. Although most marketers have already incorporated social media into their marketing mix and are seeing great results, some of them have no strategic social media communications plan in place. According to the 2010 Digital Brand Expressions Social Media survey:
- 52% companies do not have a social media crisis communications plan.
- 41% said that they were insured against a possible social media crisis.
- A whopping 88% felt that it was important to have a strategic social media communications plan in place.
While every company has its critics and unhappy customers, a smart marketer will always have a recovery plan to prevent a social media disaster from snowballing. As a marketer, you can never fully control what your customers say about your brand in the digital space; however, preparing yourself for a social media crisis will ensure you are not caught off guard. Here are some points to focus on while designing a crisis communications plan:
- Identify the Crisis:
Before proceeding to the 'what should I do' stage, it is essential to a)fully understand the situation b) find out if the people who are talking about your brand are high influencers c) what is the medium being used and d) how is it affecting your company's image. This can be best done by monitoring your brand on social media. By using social media monitoring tools such as brand monitor, you can also:
- Listen to what your customers are saying.
- Analyze the general sentiment pertaining to the issue (is it leaning towards negative or are people neutral in their opinion).
- Chalk up the appropriate escalation plan.
- Engage industry influencers to defend your brand if necessary: Online users tend to trust the influencers more than company officials. After tracking your influencers, the next step involves engaging with them to solve the problem.
The key purpose of crisis identification at an early stage via media monitoring is to be able to respond quickly. Keep in mind, in the digital space, your response time needs to be very quick. For instance, United Airlines' delayed response to singer Dave Carroll's YouTube complaint video reportedly cost the airline a 10% drop in its share price. Despite 50,000 views on YouTube, United responded by saying "We're working to make what happened right." According to industry experts, if a solid social media crisis management plan been in place, the airlines could have responded faster, saving the company from the loss and reputation damage.
- Be Transparent:
The simplest way to win back customers' trust is by being straightforward and coming clean. While it is easy to get defensive or hide behind 'no comment', this will not prevent fans and followers from continuing to talk about your brand. We believe that the first step to fixing a social media crisis is to admit it; it gives a humane touch. As discussed earlier, using influencers to diffuse a situation is a good first step; however, by getting someone relevant and important such as company Presidents and CEOs to respond is a smart move. Although today's CEOs are no longer social media shy, a recent survey by public relations agency Weber Shandwick shows that they have some catching up to do. According to the survey:
- 64% of CEOs are not using social media; only 36% have a social media presence.
- 93% of them continue to depend on traditional methods to communicate with external audiences.
- Many CEOs are in the 40-60 demographic, making them less social media savvy.
Why We Recommend Company Heads Get Involved
Several case studies involving important company officials who have successfully fixed a social media PR disaster show that:
- Company heads engaging with unhappy customers wield high influence in the social media space.
- Two-way dialogues involving important company officials send out a strong message that 'we understand and apologize'.
- CEOs owning up to an oversight and promising to fix it shows that the company cares.
- By rapidly responding to a crisis through blogs, videos or other social platforms, CEOs dispel the myth of being 'corporate executives sitting behind desks'.
- Customers want to hear from a person who is real and is being honest and forthright with them.
Dominos' quick, direct and personal response to a social media crisis involving its employees is the perfect example of how a company should handle emergency situations in the digital space. When two of its former employees uploaded YouTube videos of themselves doing unseemly things to food, customers and fans of the pizza giant started to question the hygiene standards that were being followed. Besides registering millions of views on YouTube, the video showed up in five out of 12 Google searches for "Dominos". The company wasted no time in posting its response. The crisis management team at Dominos decided to tackle the situation by uploading their own YouTube video that featured their President; a wise move, for a press release explaining the situation would have only escalated the situation further. Instead of insisting that the video had nothing to do with the company's hygiene policy, the President, J. Patrick Doyle, said that he was as 'sickened' as the customers and promised to shut the store and clean it completely. What restored customers' faith in Dominos was the President's honesty and the fact that he thanked customers for "sticking with us".
Your customers know that everyone makes mistakes once in a while; what's more important to them is to know how you are going to fix it. The key to handling a situation effectively is to have open, consistent flow of information.
- Restoring your Reputation:
Although prevention is the best solution to manage a crisis, it is very natural for occasional slip-ups to happen. Restoring your company's image after a social media disaster is crucial for getting back in the business. While it is true that a slip-up can impact customers' perception, here are some suggestions to help revive your brand's image in the digital space:
- Have Seasoned Social Media Experts Handle a Crisis: Having a junior intern handle your social media activities simply because 'they get social media' may not always be the best approach. A well assembled social media disaster management team, comprising of a community manager, a PR and a senior management representative, ensures that your company is always prepared to successfully handle an unforeseen situation. Besides managing large amount of content and conversations online, the disaster management team will know a) when to respond b) what to say c) how much to say and d) when to remain silent. Social media experts know how to handle crisis without breaking sweat; and this is vital for restoring your company's image online.
- Turn Crisis into Opportunity: Yes! A PR crisis can be converted into positive online buzz. The most apt example in this case involves fashion retailer Gap and how the company turned its logo debacle into a social media opportunity. Instead of playing the blame game after their own version was severely criticized across Facebook and Twitter, Gap smartly decided to offer its fans the chance to redesign its logo online. By doing this, the company a) acknowledged the problem b) made customers feel involved c) shifted the focus from the actual issue by converting it into an exciting social media campaign and d) managed to improve its reputation.
- Talk about it: By apologizing on Facebook or tweeting that you're sorry, you have managed to mollify disgruntled fans; what next? Believe it or not, your customers want to hear what happened. Discussing the 'what' and 'how' of the situation shows that the PR representatives and social media experts are doing more than just their job. Using a personal, human voice when communicating via social media channels re-establishes trust with customers, making them believe that your company has more than just an organizational presence. Talking about an issue not only promotes trust and commitment, but also leads to a favorable brand image.
We believe that social media is a great platform for connecting with prospects and customers on a personal level; the flip-side though, is that networking channels also attract their share of online protests, customer complaints and negative feedback. In such cases, the best line of defense for online marketers is to design a comprehensive social media policy and crisis management plan. This not only prepares your company for any outward incidents, but also helps effectively respond to potential flare-ups. However, this does not mean you should live your social efforts in fear. A crisis management plan is like a safety net; it ensures that your company is insured against a PR meltdown online. In today's customer-driven world, fans have demonstrated greater ownership over social media. Smart marketers who have understood this know that they have little control over how their brands are perceived or what is being discussed about them in the digital space. As the above studies indicate, although a greater percentage of marketers do not have a social media communications plan in place, a majority of them are willing to consider developing one in the future. As quoted by Jeremiah Owyang, crisis planning helps you 'plan and practice for the worst, yet live for the best'.