Like it or loathe it, we live in an increasingly digital world. Nowadays, social media acts as a source of news, a customer helpdesk, an enquiry point and a referral system all at once. The potential for a brand crisis is greater than ever before and how we deal with it can make or break a business.
As media professionals, we are often asked to deal with crisis situations, alongside solicitors and other business advisors. Our goal when handling a crisis is to turn a potentially disastrous situation around in the hope our clients will come out the other side unscathed at worst, strengthened at best.
Businesses who deal directly with consumers are particularly vulnerable to a crisis. Consumer behaviour has evolved over the past few years and most of us will now turn to social media with enquiries and complaints as our first point of call rather than call customer services or check a company’s website.
Negative reviews need not spell disaster, but anger and outrage are the emotions that spread the fastest over social media. When a crisis can be born out of a seemingly small issue, having a solid plan in place is crucial. A good plan prepares your social media team to effectively identify a problem, assess the damage and react quickly. In a social media crisis, every minute counts while silence and delays can be lethal.
Getting your crisis management strategy wrong could result in boycotts and damage to your reputation, which would be very costly. For that reason alone, the social media function is business-critical and should be handled by a specialist team rather than the office junior, despite Southern Rail’s recent performance. It’s also worth spending time developing a social media policy so that everyone in your organisation understands what is and isn’t acceptable.
Social media crises can occur for a variety of reasons, ranging from accidental tweets to citizen journalism and unfortunate marketing campaigns. We all know brands that have handled a crisis impeccably, often with wit, and have escaped with their reputation intact; others have misjudged public sentiment or failed to respond consistently or in a timely fashion and have ended up paying dearly for it (United Airlines, anyone?).
What makes some succeed where others fail?
Speed of reaction. If you engage with your customers over social media, you need to keep abreast of your accounts around the clock. A delayed reaction leaves a vacuum in which a benign matter can spiral out of control.
Consistency. When handling a crisis, your key messages should be on point. You might find yourself on the receiving end of the fake news phenomenon so a robust script is crucial. But you also need to be consistent with your tone of voice all the way through and agree on your approach as an organisation from the outset.
Honesty. History has shown us time and time again that lying never pays off. If you have made a mistake, put your hands up, apologise profusely, sympathise with whoever was wronged and offer a solution. Then follow through with that solution.
Above all, preparation is key. The saying that failing to prepare is preparing to fail has never been truer than in the case of crisis communications. When executing a social media campaign, thorough planning should allow you to foresee any potential pitfalls and prevent disaster before it strikes.