The words ‘social media crisis’ or ‘online issues management’ can conjure images of pitchforks, burning torches and mobs of angry villagers. It may sound like a scene from Game of Thrones, but with a little stretch of the imagination, it’s not difficult to see how the thick storm of a social media crisis/issue could feel like a chapter straight from George R. R. Martin’s bloody saga.
While social media has given consumers a platform to keep brands and corporates honest, it has also given them weapons powerful enough to destroy the strongest of reputations.
The results can be ugly; a barrage of abusive comments splattered across Facebook and streams of tweets as thick as blood. Ask any marketer who has navigated through the sensitivities of Halal Certification uproar and it’s possible you’ll get a nod of agreement.
But like all conflicts, there are strategies you can effectively employ to prevent issues from turning into crises, at the same time as minimising long-term risk to reputation (and employee sanity!).
Here are four strategies to consider when dealing with issues via social media:
#1 Plan ahead
Ask yourself this question: If a major issue or crisis hit your company or brand tomorrow, would you be ready to handle the floods of fiery comments?
Are you and your team prepared with:
- A tried and tested escalation plan?
- Community compliance rules that are clear and accessible to your audience?
- Company policies and procedures, and any legal or regulatory constraints?
- Have you undertaken scenario planning and developed pre-approved Q&As?
- Are you adequately resourced?
If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail (disclaimer: this is probably our favourite quote at FORWARD). If you haven’t ticked the items listed above, it may be time to refresh your internal social media processes and procedures.
#2 Don’t broadcast the message, individualise it instead
Picture this: Your community manager has reported an influx of complaints made via the Facebook page about one of your products. The comments are coming through thick and fast, and you’re given the option to post a generic holding statement via Facebook. Would you consider this the best course of action?
There is definitely a time and a place for a broadcasted message, but when it comes to dealing with disgruntled customers, a more individualised approach can be more effective.
UK telco O2 faced a similar problem when, during a massive network outage, O2’s Twitter account became inundated with tweets from angry customers. Instead of issuing a generic statement, the company made the decision to respond directly to disgruntled customers with authentic, personalised comments. Their individual-centric approach received mass support from O2 customers, turning a negative crisis into a positive brand experience.
#3 Be true and authentic
Now is not the time for corporate jargon, wishy-washy statements or half-hearted responses.
If you have a position or particular viewpoint on an issue – i.e. your company agrees with halal certification – it must be stated clearly and communicated authentically with the utmost respect to those with opposing opinions.
Vegemite demonstrated this well when recently confronted by the nasty war over Halal Certification – an issue that saw dairy manufactures, The Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company, pressured by consumers to drop certification resulting in the termination of a $50K Emirates contract.
Facing a consumer boycott if the Halal Certification wasn’t dropped (but let’s face it, who would ever really boycott this delicious spread) Vegemite responded with the following:
VEGEMITE is proud to be a spread for all Aussies. Thats why we’re Kosher & Halal certified, as well as suitable for vegetarians. While we enjoy a bit of banter as much as the next breakfast spread, anyone who insists on posting comments of hate, religious vilification or unwarranted grumpiness will be removed from our social media pages. So, no matter how you spread your Vegemite, remember – we’re just here to #SpredTheLove.
This respectful yet firm response ensured Australia’s most beloved breakfast food did not bow to pressures that were against their corporate philosophy.
#4 If you made a mistake – own it
As tempting as it is to justify your reasoning and prove your competency, it’s near impossible to stir up support and empathy if you cannot first take responsibility for your mistakes.
There are countless examples of brands that have owned their mistakes, and gone on to turn their situation into a positive.
One of the most memorable is from the Red Cross, when one of their social media employees accidentally posted this:
“Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd”
The company’s social media director subsequently followed with a humorous tweet, acknowledging the mistake.
“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys”
Although the mistake was one individual’s, Red Cross took responsibility as a company. Their quick thinking and instant acknowledgement of the tweet may have prevented more serious corporate embarrassment.
In summary, try not to justify or act defensively – even if there is a legitimate excuse for the mistake, your audience need you to own-up before they can see your side of the story.
It goes without saying that preparation, considered thought, and a fast response can be enough to quell the angry crowds when an issue arises via social. If you’re not already set-up to weather a social media storm, act now. Because if Game of Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that disaster can indeed strike when you least expect it.