By adaptive - September 10th, 2013

Real time responses within an organised framework by well-trained staff are a vital part of any social media strategy

Over the past two articles we have examined the ways in which organisations need to prepare themselves for the inevitable social media crisis and how this rich media format can be used to control and manage a storm of negativity. The next step is, of course, to establish the rules of real-time engagement and set guidelines for your team to ensure the success of your crisis management plans.

Every organisation needs to be ready for a social media backlash to prevent it from becoming a social media disaster. Taco Bell is an example of how not to respond. Kitchen Aid and Apple both offer superb examples of how you should respond. In October 2012 a Kitchen Aid employee accidentally used the official Twitter account to send out a hugely offensive tweet (see image). July 2013 saw a woman electrocuted by her iPhone 5 and Apple was in the firing line.

KitchenAid Tweet.

Both companies were presented with potentially brand limiting situations that could have had far reaching repercussions, and in both cases the crises were averted due to incredibly fast and targeted responses from the brands in question. Cynthia Soledad, the head of Kitchen Aid, put out a tweet, fast. Apple went straight into investigative mode to figure out what had happened, fast.

The common thread here is that in every case the response to the crisis was made in real time and abided by the rules of engagement:

  • Recognise the situation and set crisis management plans into play.
  • Respond honestly and on the right media platforms.
  • Show an interest in the issue and do not be arrogant or dismissive.
  • Offer a solution, deliver on a promise, and meet the problem head on.
  • Do all of this quickly and transparently.

Guy Stephens, Social Business Managing Consultant at IBM, says, “This goes to the very heart of how a company views its customers. Up to now a company could say it was customer-centric, but never really had to prove itself. Now they have to deliver on the promise. It’s not necessarily that customers are more vocal than ever before, it’s just that their voices can be transmitted more loudly and quickly and the time between something going wrong and a tweet about it has condensed to milliseconds.”

Be fast, not stupid

There is an unfortunate legacy of tweets and comments from organisations that are clearly not paying attention. You may be responding rapidly to your social media crisis, but are you doing so with intelligence? Buzzfeed has an entire list of the worst possible tweets that include a complete disregard for trending hashtags. Respond quickly, but intelligently.

“The crucial thing, given the pervasive nature of social media, is that you have to engage,” says Richard Boorman, Executive Head for Media Relations and Social Media at Vodacom South Africa, “They key is to acknowledge that you’re aware of the situation, that you’re looking into it and that you will provide feedback quickly.”

The speed of your responses may set you apart, but so will the content. Your teams need to put a human face onto their communications and show human emotions. A robotic auto response will only fuel the flames and likely antagonise people even further.

“Make sure that your social media are constantly being monitored and that you have set the right policies and procedures to make sure that queries are tended to in the shortest amount of time,” reiterates Daniel Magrin, Client Services Manager at Belgrin, “Having these policies in place you are ensuring that the person trusted with the response is replying with the relevant information. The best tools to help with complaint resolution would teach your team to be compassionate, understanding, and how to keep calm. This will help them to minimise damage and produce positive outcomes for tricky situations.”

Indeed, the speed of the team is one vital thing, but so is their training. The people left in charge of social media communications cannot do so in a vacuum. Your team needs to be given training that will cover how to respond in specific scenarios and what the brand ethos must be in all instances.

“Understand your culture and mindset,” says Stephens, “The way a company uses the tools – Twitter, Facebook – reflects its mindset.”

His colleague, Russell Johns, EMEA Marketing Director, IMB Emptoris Strategic Supply Management agrees and adds, “Given the importance of the brand, incidents should be reviewed on a daily basis and appropriate actions agreed across the day. Constant review of action and results will set you above your competition and this will also allow the company to learn and adapt.”

Prepare your teams by giving them concise guidelines and tools and review these constantly to ensure they are appropriate for the brand and the situation.  On one thing all experts agree: to train your team effectively ensure you have regular scenario training. Have staff enact situations in real time so they can receive immediate feedback and guidance and know exactly what constitutes good or bad practice.

A traditional blend

The next step is to ensure that the support and social interaction implemented by your teams is consistent across the organisation and is reflected in the behaviours of the traditional customer service teams too.

“In a crisis all teams should ideally pull together, headed up by the team handling the crisis situation,” says Ana Athayde, Co-Founder and CEO of Spotter, “The customer front represented by customer service handling incoming calls and responding to emails will have the same information available to all stakeholders.”

All teams should be briefed and trained so they can react appropriately regardless of the medium and ensure that there is feedback across all departments. How else can you ensure that a mistake made is one that is learned from by all?

“The first prize is to get your customer care team out of the office and have them sit with your social media people and follow live interaction,” says Boorman, “It will help demonstrate why speed, accuracy and tone are so important.”

Johns believes that there should be no line between the traditional and the online customer care service at all, “All customer facing teams must be involved in the same training and have the same approach to customer service.”

If you meet the criteria of a good social media crisis response strategy and you have the people in place to implement it, then your organisation is ready to face whatever incident comes its way. While there are no guarantees that an outcome will be perfect, an honest, immediate and intelligent response to the crisis will see your customers prepared to listen and that is exactly what you need.

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