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Reputation management: The social media must-haves for your crisis plan

Submitted by on November 2, 2011 – 10:06 am4 Comments

The numbers are trending nicely for social media. A new piece of research out this week estimates the global social network ad spend will top $8 billion next year and approach $10 billion the year after. There’s another social media figure on the rise too: despite the increased investment in social, companies are getting blindsided by the social media-fueled PR crisis, as our recent research into this shows. Here then are a few important tips to consider for integrating social media into your crisis communications plan.We thought it would be more helpful for you and your team if we took the findings of our analytical History of Social Media Screw-Ups and distilled these eight take-away points.  They are the most oft-repeated missteps and misconceptions that lead big brands into trouble with the public.

  • Underestimating influence/impact of your social media critics at your peril. Kryptonite is the business school case study here, but loads of brands since – from Target telling the blogosphere they don’t rate to Nestle telling off eco Facebook protesters – have failed to understand that bloggers/Tweeters and Facebook protesters may not be The Guardian or New York Times, but they do hold plenty of weight.
  • Giving the online community flashy marketing message when they just want simple, straightforward detail. These days, companies can get into big trouble for issuing fictitious glowing reviews or trotting out seemingly genuine testimonials by paid actors. Even before these consumer protections were put into place, L’Oreal paid a higher price – it got burned by vigilant bloggers.

Learn from the digital pioneers, brands like Coca-Cola, Carnival Cruises, Whole Foods, Vodafone and scores of others. Their social media blunders – in the areas of crap customer service, plain dumb marketing or simply being caught short in a crisis – provide valuable lessons from which to shape future corporate comms policy. It all can be found in our new e-book, #FAIL: The 50 Greatest Social Media Screw-Ups and How to Avoid Being the Next One. Buy the book today on Amazon UK, Amazon or Lulu. iTunes and Nook coming soon.

  • Culture of unresponsive/uncaring customer service fuels recurring gripes, becomes PR headache. Dell learned the hard way that Jeff Jarvis’ customer service gripes were not an isolated issue; a massive backlash was brewing. It just took one well-connected critic to put his finger on it and the avalanche ensued.
  • Failing to understand the Coke credo: “our consumers control our brand.” Coca-Cola tried to stifle conversation around the combustible combo of Diet Coke + Mentos. Later, it would acknowledge, you cannot hope to muzzle what everyone is talking about.
  • Petition the public for crowdsourced ideas, only to be caught out when they have something nasty to say. Crowdsourcing is in vogue these days, giving loyal fans a chance to name a new product or devise a new softdrink formula. But as Chevrolet learned with its Tahoe SUV, be prepared to get from the public more than a clever new slogan.
  • Asleep at the wheel: giving junior employees full reign of the channels and providing them with little direction. What could go wrong? Where to start here? Last year, the epic #fail was engineered by Habitat which gave an “overenthusiastic intern” the keys to the Twitter feed. The result? Famously tweeting sale promotions by piggy-backing on the trending Iran election hashtags. More recently, the Vodafone UK Twitter feed was hijacked by a rogue employee who let fly with the odd homophobic Tweet.
  • Don’t assume attempts at feel-good social media washing won’t come back to bite. Wal-Mart took the most heat here when a folksy, it-will-be-blogged “Wal-Marting Across America” journey emerged just as it was getting pressured elsewhere for its checkered labor practices. All goodwill was lost when it was revealed Wal-Mart was funding the feel-good road trip.
  • Facebook is not just a forum for fans and “Likes.” Burger King, Nestle, and BP, to name just a few have seen their Facebook pages overwhelmed by critics who want to expose dodgy company practice. Greenpeace has had great success mobilising its followers in a series of corporate Facebook pressure campaigns. BK quickly caved to the demands to cheers. Nestle, on the other hand, shouted back, inviting more opposition.

The biggest culprits – plain dumb marketing, officious customer service and asleep-at-the-wheel moments in monitoring online reputation – are alive and well and triggering protests from the general public. For all the fresh money pouring into social media, we would expect the number of screw-ups to rise before companies really get the message that social media investment means more than crafting a slick campaign. It means two-way dialogue, transparency and, yes, learning from your mistakes.

Editor’s Note: we’re pleased to be bringing back our popular instructional workshop: Social Media Crisis Communications next month, to be held in London on February 29. Again, we will be teaming with Neil Chapman, former comms chief at BP. He has some amazing stories and lessons to share from his experience with the Deepwater Horizon spill. It will be an interesting day dedicated to reputation management and crisis communications. Come join us!


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