By adaptive - September 3rd, 2013

In Part 2 of our series on managing crises we outline the steps to take to ensure a reputation risk doesn't spiral out of control

The social media crisis is here to stay. That sounds so utterly clichéd, but amazingly there are still organisations out there not paying any attention. A survey recently undertaken by PwC US had more than half the respondents not officially using social media as a crisis management resource. Only 38% were leveraging it as a tool and a tiny eight per cent said it was an “enabler for their organization to proactively identify and respond to crisis events.”

Richard May, UK Sales Director of Spotter says, “Protecting brand reputation from rumours and misconceptions is key for firms nowadays given the number of consumers and stakeholders who follow their favourite brands on social media.”

Brands need to develop strategies for coping with a social media crisis and have plans in place to contain brand damage and react with speed. If this isn’t done, if there are no step-by-step procedures to prioritise the issues then how can your organisation respond correctly when a problem occurs?

“If you haven’t done everything ahead of time it is almost going to be too late when that crisis comes up,” says Richard Boorman, Executive Head: Media Relations & Social Media at Vodacom South Africa , “If you haven’t done the basics already, then you’re potentially in some real trouble because you don’t have the tools available to start talking to people.”

Russell Johns, EMEA Marketing Director, IBM Emptoris Strategic Supply Management, agrees, “Damage limitation often lies in effective prevention. Businesses should implement a social media response strategy, rehearse responses and escalation, agree ahead on communication policies, train staff and ensure that they are all aware of, and able to follow, corporate social media strategy.”

So what are these tools and how do you manage a reputation risk scenario before it spirals out of control?

It’s a priority

There are several steps you can take. The first is to be, as discussed above, prepared. Have your strategy in place and know exactly what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and by whom. While developing this plan, ensure that crisis resolution methodologies include your brand ethos and fit within the overarching messaging of the company.

Johns also highlights how things should be prioritised in a crisis:

  • Respond quickly and truthfully.
  • Avoid making negative comments.
  • Directly address commentators (where appropriate) while simultaneously addressing the wider audience.
  • Be proactive.

Johns, Boorman and May all believe that monitoring what is being said is vital. You need to have systems that are watching the conversations on a daily basis so you can see the crisis coming and be better prepared for it.

“Ideally the brand will have plans for brand damage containment and will not only have a monitoring system in place to detect early warning signals of misinformation, but will also know third party endorsers and influencers who can engage with their followers,” says May, “Understanding the conversations surrounding a brand is an essential part of reputation management.”

The way in which you prioritise a response will largely depend on the business. For some the online conversation will be the most direct route to solving the issue, and this has the added advantage of being one that is easily monitored and tracked to assess the success or failure of the strategy. For others more traditional media may be the key.

“In today’s age of the connected consumer, online conversations, both personal outreach to individuals and broadcast communications on social media platforms, are often essential and play as important a part as traditional plans to communicate with key influencers such as the analyst community and the media,” says Johns.

Check and go

Once you have an operational system in place, and you’ve communicated it clearly to the people who will be working with social media and representing your brand, the next step is to identify whether or not a situation qualifies as a social media debacle. When is it time to step in with the full power of the brand behind you, and when do you let sleeping dogs lie?

If the answer to the following risk factors is a yes, you have a situation on your hands:

  • Is this going to negatively influence customer perception of your brand?
  • Will this negativity have an impact on your bottom line?
  • Is there a strong chance it will go viral due to the emotional nature of the issue?
  • Is the overarching emotional impact a negative one?

What’s also really important to remember here is that you must respond to the crisis on the platform it occurred. If your brand is being attacked on social, don’t respond on the website or via other traditional means.

Sharon Latour, Chief Marketing Officer at Marketing Bee advises that the source of the crisis needs to be the point of priority in your crisis communication. “If someone has tweeted about your brand, your first response should be a tweet of your own. However, as the situation progresses you should become transparent in your actions. Start informing your different publics on different platforms.”

A great example of a brand not responding in kind is the Taco Bell incident that took place earlier this year. A photograph of an employee licking a pile of taco shells was posted to Facebook and quickly went viral. Taco Bell responded by putting up a post on their website which was a) hard to find unless you knew to look for it and b) not the right place to go. After a deluge of posts and comments on Facebook, the company closed the comment feature instead of using it as a tool to soothe consumer fears. This is where they needed to use Facebook as a way of getting their message out to everyone first, not by replying to a few individual posts in the debate itself. A look at their fan page today doesn’t see a comment that directly targets the issue, but plenty of outraged remarks from users on threads around 02 June 2013.

“Customers need to see you deal with any issue quickly and professionally,” says Daniel Magrin, Client Services Manager at Belgrin, “Deal with the issues publicly so it doesn’t look like you are hiding anything and, by doing this, you will gain some credibility. Connect with the customer on a personal level and let them know you care, that you are dealing with the issue and reassure them as to your organisation’s high standards.”

These are the steps your business needs to take in order to handle a social media crisis effectively and in a way that will cause as little damage as possible to the brand. In part three of this series we will examine real time engagement and how your employees can respond quickly with relevant information.

Next Reads

The Social Media for Customer Service Summit 2013

October 2013, New York

How you can leverage social media for a more effective customer service function and better customer insight

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