Facing the Online Crisis

February might be a short month but there’s been no shortage of crisis and reputational disaster stories in the media. Whether it’s the government’s handling of the UK’s floods, or WhatsApp’s outage or even the Brit Awards sponsors’ PR panic; organisations have to accept that these situations are quite likely going to arise at some point.

Today it’s often the case that either your crisis will start online or unhappy commentators will do their best to make sure the bad news spreads over social media networks. A few years ago you might have felt it would be ok to ignore social media if you didn’t actively engage on the platforms but now this simply isn’t the case. Even if your organisation hasn’t got a Facebook or Twitter profile, you need to make sure you have some idea of what is being said about you and your brand.

There are complicated pieces of software that will track and monitor when your company’s name, brand or key people are mentioned but if you don’t have access to these it’s still very easy to regularly check yourself by searching on Google or just on the specific platforms. MasterCard’s crisis during their Brit Award sponsorship saw the hashtag they were using (within hours, web pages had been set up to highlight peoples’ favourite #PricelessSurprises remarks) being hijacked by large numbers of people who wanted to chip in with their angry or witty comments. This is a risk that brands who step into the spotlight will have to take to raise their profile but, in this instance, it’s likely that MasterCard were keeping a close eye on what was being said about them when their online mentions started spiking.

If you start to see a crisis simmer online, you have a few choices; sit back and do nothing – the chances are that things will snowball and once you do decide to step in it will be too late to convince people you are keen to help the situation. Or you can at least try to respond to the important comments online – Interflora seemed to have a number of delivery problems on Valentine’s day but when people complained on Twitter, they did at least try and engage with an apology and an apparent willingness to try and fix the problem. The final option is to accept that social media is likely to be a platform that your customers or stakeholders will engage, interact and probably judge you on – so you have to ‘step up’ and act accordingly.

A piece of research into social media users, commissioned by Lithium Technologies and carried out by Millward Brown Digital, suggested that “53 percent who expect a brand to respond to their Tweet demand that response comes in less than an hour”. They also found that if a company didn’t respond quickly enough people weren’t too forgiving; “38 percent feel more negative about the brand and a full 60 percent will take unpleasant actions to express their dissatisfaction”.

So where does this leave organisations who want to be ready for a social media backlash if they face a crisis? Firstly, be aware of what’s being said about you, if need be get an external agency to report on the mentions and chatter. Secondly, remember that’s it’s a platform for dialogues; it’s not just a one-way notice board. Thirdly, treat your social media seriously; devote some time and resource to ensuring you can effectively manage a long-term online presence, where you talk to and build relationships with your audience. If you do this, then you have a pretty good chance of being able to tackle a crisis head-on if one does ever happen.

Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.co.uk – February 2014

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