Social media DO’s and DON’Ts: 6 remedies for any emergency

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2010/08/11 · 106 comments 12,004 views

in a dos and don'ts

We started a series entitled, Social Media DOs and DON’Ts, which provides checklists, tips and tricks to help you leverage your social media skills even better.

Today we focus on how to handle social media in case of a crisis, such as the BP oil spill or a product recall. Social media has become an increasingly important tool for crisis-management.

Below we outline a plan and, most importantly, how it must be tried and tested to withstand a potential onslaught. Examples and videos illustrate what works and what fails when online activist groups like Greenpeace mount an attack against your brand.

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    1. Speed is critical

If the event has been identified such as a faulty product, whatever should be done (e.g., product recall) must be done quickly.

As well, the decision must be communicated fast and a response (e.g., on Facebook, YouTube video, etc.) must be done quickly if not within the hour of the day you discovered the attack.

Example
Unflattering publicity: A news report shows some unsavory practices at Domino’s Pizza.

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Domino’s responds with a clever, though slightly over the top video.

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Testing: Is your team ready to start preparing your coordinated response within 30 minutes of such an incident? Practice such a situation with two or more drills each year to see if your team is up to the challenge.

    2. The messenger(s) should be whoever does it best

The company’s chairman or chief executive officer – whether the positions are held by one person or two – should be the face or faces of its crisis response.

Unfortunately, few company chiefs play well to the cameras.

The drubbings received by BP’s British chief executive Tony Hayward, its Swedish chairman Carl-Henric Svanbert, and Toyota chief executive Akio Toyoda, suggest that a company might want to rethink this approach.

Example
How to win the battle: Virgin Group chairman Sir Richard Branson cut short a holiday when a Virgin train derailed in 2007, killing one woman. He painted the driver as a hero, said Virgin’s trains were ‘built like tanks’ and – perhaps most important – looked genuinely upset.

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Testing: How well do the people chosen to respond in case of a public relations disaster come across on various media channels (e.g., different methods are required for television than print-media)?

    3. Saying nothing is never good

The ‘no comment’ statement might satisfy your lawyers but represents media-suicide and infuriates the public.

Furthermore, silence is often perceived as guilt. Accordingly, talking straight and accepting partial responsibility quickly is likely to protect your brand better than using carefully crafted statements that may smack of legalese and evasion. Accordingly, if the company’s representative communicates unequivocal resolve, compassion, concern and engagement, the words become less important.

After all, the company can still seek indemnification in the event subsequent investigation shows other parties are more culpable.

Example
Being polite could be misconstrued as guilt or lack of feeling: Mr Toyoda and his lieutenant Mr Inada (president of Toyota USA) using a translator and speaking in halting English during their testimony does not help either come across as trustworthy and convincing.

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In some countries, being aggressive and unrepenting is positive: As Brooksley Born interrogates him, Lloyd Blankfein’s lucid testimony comes across well, without any admission of wrongdoing or much insight. He is rather cocky, but he got away with it.

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Testing: How well will your statement or testimony be received by consumers or clients in key markets? Prepare your 30-second sound bite and check whether it gets the message across by reviewing the material.

Test whether those responsible for preparing the initial statement for the company’s spokesperson are up to the task – can they deliver within the time-frame given?

    4. Saying the wrong thing backfires – but what’s the ‘wrong thing’?

These days an off-the-cuff remark such as BP chairman Svanberg’s talk of ‘the small people’ gets passed around the world within hours on the web. Such statements clearly undermine any trust the public may have in subsequent communications.

When Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann gave a victory sign during his court appearance at the Mannesmann trial, it became a symbol of arrogance to the German public (see right). Ultimately, he avoided any conviction of breach of fiduciary duty as a Mannesmann board member during the Mannesmann/Vodafon takeover battle at a re-trial. Mr Ackermann settled without admitting guilt, paying €3.2 million. Nevertheless, the German public remains wary of this guy.

Example
BP CEO Tony Hayward saying, “I’d like my life back,” was perceived as a slap in the face of thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose lives and economic livelihoods had been turned upside down by his company’s actions. It was the beginning of his subsequent downfall and replacement.

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When Lloyd Blankfein said he was just a banker ‘doing God’s work’ (page 4, second-last paragraph), the world knew it within hours. The fallout was far beyond the statement’s importance in the overall interview but the media had a field day.

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Testing: What may seem cool, funny or humorous to your peers can be perceived as offensive by others. Test and try to minimize the risk for collateral damage or refrain from making light of the situation altogether.

    5. Being incommunicado is not an option – ever

Social media use by consumers, activists and journalists never stops, whether on weekends, overnight or during holidays. It is 24/7/365, all the way.

So if Greenpeace starts a negative publicity campaign late Friday afternoon, the company cannot ignore it until Monday, by which time the news has spread like wildfire. Even if the company provides media and bloggers with important facts by Tuesday, the risk remains that it is too little, too late.

Example
Nestlé’s team demonstrates how not to respond to a Greenpeace attack on your brand – KitKat.

Even rational arguments provided to the media two weeks after the disaster started will not help. For instance, according to Nestlé CEO Mr Brabeck-Letmathe, the social media team forgot to share some facts, such as Nestlé and other food producers buying about 0.7 percent of world production of palm trees, but European governments’ policy on increasing the amount of energy that comes from bio-fuels is the bigger culprit.

While this suggests that the message should be something like “don’t use bio-fuels”, the issue was never raised in the social media fight regarding his use of palm oil from Sinar Mas and its reputation. When it was finally mentioned, it was lost in the shuffle.

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Testing: How can and does the company monitor social media in relevant markets outside ‘regular’ business hours (24/7/365 approach required for global brand)? For instance, how well can it respond to an onslaught of negative comments on social media networks, thereby influencing discussions with facts, not opinions? Have you tried it, did it work or was it a Nestlé-type flop? Put an emergency response team in place that can take action within 30 minutes of learning of any online brand attack.

    6. Respond to humorous brand attacks with a smile

The Internet has changed things in part by empowering consumers to produce content and share their material using social networks. Increasingly, consumers are using humor to get the message across. The company has three choices:

    – ignore the attack at your own peril,
    – try to respond in kind (e.g., leave a comment on the blog post or on YouTube were the video was posted), and/or,
    – produce a humorous response (e.g., on corporate blog or YouTube channel).

Even being proactive and responding quickly does not mean you are in control of the situation, but it does enable you to influence the discussion with facts.

Example
What might happen if BP was responsible for cleaning up a coffee spill at a meeting.

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Increasingly, Facebook is getting into hot water about privacy issues and sharing users’ data with advertisers. This video makes a bit of fun of CEO Zuckerberg and how he believes we should address privacy concerns.

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Testing: Humor does not play well across cultures and/or languages. Make sure you do not overplay your hand and use what is tried and tested.

Bottom line – the social media disaster drill is a must
If your company follows the above DOs and DON’Ts, a level of savvy and understanding can be attained that allows for effective use of this technology to leverage your brand.

We advise preparing a 30-second sound bite AND a 200-word statement that addresses and answers:

    – what went wrong,
    – how it will be fixed, and
    – what will happen to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The core message will always be wrapped in these three main points and adhere to the cardinal rules of crisis communication:

    => tell the truth, tell it all, tell it fast.

Most important is to test how well your response meets the above six criteria, create a strategy for quickly establishing contact with key people to handle such emergencies and test your procedures to make sure everybody knows what to do, when.

Remember, as a student you knew exactly what to do when the fire alarm went off at school thanks to all those fire drills. The same is required to handle a public relations disaster or attack on your brand. Without testing how well your strategy works, your effective damage control will fail during a real disaster and may actually exacerbate the problem instead of limiting the damage.

Have an opinion on this? Did we forget a DO or DON’T for social media that you know about? Please share in the comments; I love to hear what works for you!

Article source: ComMetrics – Social media DO’s and DON’Ts: 6 remedies for any emergency

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