By Artwell Nwaila
With social media, the reaction time to any crisis has changed from hours to minutes. The sad reality about social media is that bad news travels much faster than good news. Mark Twain said it best, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
In August 2010, someone phoned in a hijacking threat
for American Airlines Flight 24, departing for New York City. The flight was stopped and the authorities followed procedure by not allowing passengers to disembark until the police had cleared them. Within minutes passengers began to live tweet the event detail by detail. Reporters picked up on the tweets and broadcasted the happenings as they occurred. The social media team for the airline quickly spotted the activity and intervened by engaging the passenger tweeters while providing accurate information to journalists on the situation.
Strategist Mike Johnson states in his article, PR Crisis Management in the ‘Twitter Age'
on Social Media Today
that silence in the social world can be an acknowledgement that things are bad. Your assigned social media specialist needs to listen and react urgently. And they have to know what they are doing.
Earlier this year, McDonald's promoted a Twitter
campaign with the hashtag #McDstories, where customers could tell their happy McDonald's stories. Unfortunately, the opposite happened with consumers posting stories about horrendous trips to the fast food chain. “I haven’t been to McDonald’s in years, because I’d rather eat my own diarrhoea,” tweeted progammer @MuzzaFuzza. The franchise removed the hashtag in an attempt to clean the mess but the damage had been done.
Content created by the community is dangerous; giving them a platform is even more dangerous. "Unfortunately, McDonald’s learned a harsh lesson in social media marketing: When you encourage people to talk about your company, they’re not always going to say nice things," said Matt Brownwell in a Mainstreet.com article
On a September weekend in 2009, Motrin, a medicine company, launched a print and digital campaign, which gained a lot of negative response via social media. However, no one was listening or watching the social media channels over the weekend of its launch. By the time Monday came around, newspapers as well as TV and radio had picked up on the digital commotion, forcing the company to retract the offensive advert and apologise. Advertising Age’s
Tom Martin said
the company missed out on a perfect opportunity to engage with its customers.
Tracking social media conversations online is extremely important since you can't afford to not be monitoring conversations around your products, your organisation and your key people. Never leave a story to fester, explode and catch you by surprise. Tools like Sitemention
and paid site, Radian
are extremely handy when it comes to staying in tune.
In 2010, BP faced a crisis when there was an explosion on one of its oilrigs, resulting in the Gulf of Mexico being polluted. Social media went ablaze with negative content. What did BP do in response? It made three major mistakes. Firstly, BP didn’t owned up; then it contradicted the truth; and lastly, didn’t walk the talk. These actions not only worsened the situation but it tainted the brands credibility as well.
When it comes to social media PR crises, every business needs to be prepared to listen accordingly, react quickly and then retain control of any negative situation. Should a crisis occur, the PR professional needs to make sure the brand is not defensive and emotional. Crisis PR expert, Chris Lehane comments in a blog post
, "Being accessible is the type of thing the public does look for from a corporate entity in crisis." Reassuring the customer that they have been heard by either posting a video apology, blog or any medium your market uses is important and will soften the blows.
Are they any other tips that one should remember when attempting to avoid a PR crisis in the digital age? Tell us about them.