Have no doubts on social media in times of crisis

As defined in the book, Master the skills to disaster by Harvard Business School; “Crisis management can be defined as a change, either sudden or evolving, that results in an urgent problem that must be addressed immediately. For a business, a crisis can cause damage to its employees, its reputation or bottom line.”

Throughout the learning of this course, I realized that social media has entered every nook and corner of the corporate structure and has revolutionized the art of doing business, to the extent of changing the guidelines of managing crisis.  “internet is the new communication threat for all organizations and it’s something that, even today, big organizations are not taking seriously enough,’ says Hill & Knowlton’s MD of crisis and issues Tim Luckett.”

The emerging social media are used differently in a serious crisis situation as opposed to social marketing. Any doubts raised about what potential damage could attacking blog posts, tweets, and viral videos do to the reputation of the company, were laid to rest forever with the dominos prank videos which hit a million viewers overnight and put the company into the most embarrassing situation in its history.

Dominos wasted no time in burying the truth and came out in the open with an apology and a viral video which they owed to every trusted customer across the world, thus brushing off the dust from their reputation.  

On the other hand, Eurostar’s recent crisis was a classic example of why having a grip on social media is crucial. Passengers were tweeting complaints and updates while stuck amidst the snow. But Eurostar failed to own its brand name on the social media platform.

Avoiding the avoidable:

The foremost step for an alert and responsive PR team would be to identify a potential crisis even before it occurs. Waiting for a disaster to happen is like inviting trouble. A sturdy PR strategy can minimise if not negate the damage to caused to the brand due to negligence or casual attitude. It would be appropriate to mention Toyota here for their delayed responses to the global crisis which has caused a huge dent to their brand and loss of customer faith. The company could have easily prevented a bad situation from becoming worse by acting promptly and issuing some explanation to clear out the cloud of confusion. And the result, it brought more and more trouble for the Toyota car company with recall after recall, customer complaints and fears, congressional investigations, stock price reductions, and a roller coaster ride of media coverage.

Act quickly to reduce the momentum of damage:

A Japanese proverb says, if it stinks, put a lid on it. And Toyota religiously followed suit by denying that they have a crisis in the first place. The company officials did not confront the media until 2 weeks and this delay made the critical voices grow louder. Expecting to escape from the public eye without giving due explanations and cashing upon their poor memory is not the best PR strategy anymore. Social media has given birth to a more alert, participative and inquisitive audience.

The Toyota crisis management strategy:  

  • Publishing a written apology in print
  • Direct mail for recall
  • Regular press releases, public apologies and explanations on TV
  • Television ads showing testimonials of customers driving Toyota since the past 50 years and have also addressed public grievances by admitting they made mistakes in quality control.

The do’s and don’ts of PR practices:

According to an article in PRweek 24 february 2010, Social media make crises spread faster and allow the public to voice their opinions and experiences or propagate rumours in a highly visible manner. And crises are increasingly breaking online, without the knowledge of management

  • PRO’s should closely monitor the digital space’, using tools such as BlogPulse, BoardReader, IceRocket, RSS feeds and Google Alerts.
  • Being friendly or minimally cordial to the key online influencers, bloggers, attackers
  • Respond immediately-put a statement online and then address the media traditional way
  • A fool proof back up strategy can come handy at the time of crisis.
  • Crisis takes a global shape because of the internet. So applying a different strategy in different geographical areas for the same brand can be fatal.



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