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Social Media Crisis Next Day Quarterback

Posted on : 06-10-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 6, 2012.  To see the original post click here.

Social media and crisis communication seem to go hand in hand, especially as of late.  Often these crisis involve Customer situations, such as the Progressive incident started on Tumblr in August.  If you have not heard about the situation, you can review this CNN article/video.  The issue has broad implications for the brand but offers a great opportunity for others to learn.

Another situation Wednesday night offers more fodder for online discussion.  If you have not heard about it, a member of the Kitchen Aid US team tweeted a comment about President Obama.  It was a personal tweet that was accidently sent out from the wrong account.  Kitchen Aid immediately deleted the tweet and sent out an apology.  If you have not read about the situation, here is a good write up from Mashable.

As I watched online discussion on the topic today, I have seen much praise for the way Kitchen Aid handle the mistake.  I have also seen some question if they did the right thing.  One constant with any of these situations, many within the space do like to criteque the handling and add their own spin.  I personally like the way Kitchen Aid dealt with it.  I feel a little different about the Progressive situation.  At the same time I would never want to bash either company, because we are all learning, and I think it is a good opportunity for other businesses to learn too.

The fact is I do not care how well loved your brand may be, there will become a time where you too have to deal with a similar scenario.  These two examples represent two of the three most common types.

  1. Employee Mistake
  2. Customer Treatment
  3. Relationship with One or More Community Groups

Each of these can be very difficult to deal with and in some cases may be caused by things outside the companies control.  Often times you will hear people say the best approach is being open and transparent on the topic, respond immediately.  This can work sometimes but I urge some caution.  First know your brand, your Customer and how the issue is percieved.  Will your response be trusted?  For many brands it may not be.  The Progressive situation is one we can learn from.  Another one that is similar involves Aetna and their tweeting CEO.  Here is an article on Washington Post.  In traditional media business often make exceptions to business practices, like the Aetna example, or quickly move to settle, as happened with Progressive.  The challenge to doing this in social media is it sends a message to the world that you can disagree with a policy but if you are loud against the brand we will make an exception.  I should point out that in the Progressive situation, I would expect that type of lawsuit would at some point lead to settlement, but the timing is what can be challenging.

In the Kitchen Aid situation they immediately tweeted the apology.  They also responded via Twitter to reporters writing articles.  I saw one comment that they should be responding to everyone.  That is not always feasible or appropriate in my view.  Certainly placing it out there for everyone to see does help.  Lets face facts that stuff happens and people make mistakes.  That is the gist of this situation. I applaud Kitchen Aid for the speed at which they apologized and offered to have interviews with press.  I could be wrong, but as an outsider looking in, it looks to me like they have done a key component to dealing with situations like this.  It looks like they practiced and knew the approach they would take.  So here is some advice I would provide to any business regarding dealing with a social crisis:

  1. Practice - Practive a variety of scenarios in an effort to know how you would respond and clarify the roles and responsibilities.  Speed can be imperative as highlighted in the Kitchen Aid example.
  2. Know Your Customer - Often we focus on the loud aspects of the internet, but is the topic important to your Customer or not?  Is the discussion something that would sway their view of the brand?
  3. Do You Have Anything to Say that would Add Value? Would Your Response be Trusted - Often times brands are not trusted and a response could be better from someone within the community instead of the company.  The Progressive situation is a possible example.  There initial response stated that it was a tragic case and sympathies to the family and that they were not reprenting the defendant.  I am not sure the response added value, but this is a difficult situation.  Not much can be said without a full legal review.  In this case it may have been better to await others within the community to start talking about it, especially lawyers from MD who can speak to the law in question.  The ideal scenario is not the companies lawyers, but others who have nothing to lose.  This tends to happen because members of the online community do like the ability to show how knowledgable they can be.  Of course this does not always happen, but in this case I did see it start to come up late in the day, but then the conversation changed to be about the response as opposed to the issue.  Another great example of this is the #NBCFail during the Olympics.  Here is an L.A. Times article on that topic.  If you watched social media, the topic of NBC failures was everywhere, but as a business, the games were among the highest in ratings, the ultimate measurement for an ad run business.  Here is an article from CNN on the topic.
  4. Respond in a Human Way - Often PR departments handle situations like these with a sterile press release, which is often translated by reporters or placed in better context.  When speaking in social media, it is imperative that you speak to the audience in a way they are most comfortable with.
  5. What Message are you Sending to the World?- This is can easily be forgotten, but I always urge caution regarding the message you may be sending to other Customers, employees or shareholders.  Oftentimes there is a subtle message, such as “if you take to social media, we will make an exception.” These interpretations of messages can be worse than the original incident

I hope these help you and your organization deal with crisis.  Never look down upon how any organization handles a crisis, but definitely strive to take something out of each situation.  Unfortunately I expect these situations to grow dramatically over the next 2 to 5 years.  Here is a post Radian 6 put together with some well handled social crisis situations.