When I first started in public relations, one of the main issues we faced was the rise of corporate websites – if our clients should do it, how and why. And yes – that was many moons ago. Cable television was just emerging so news cycles were more predictable with three broadcast channels and a handful of national newspapers. Dictated by days(sometimes weeks) – not the hours, even minutes of today’s always-on world – PR professionals could more easily craft, confirm and implement crisis management plans on behalf of clients.
Fast forward several years – the rise of CNN, Internet and social media has systematically shrunk the response times for managing crisis. What used to take weeks and days, now requires real-time responses in hours, if not minutes. Otherwise, brands risk seemingly minor issues quickly running out of their control. Here are three tips for managing a crisis in an always-on, social media world.
Real-Time Monitoring and Listening
The first step is ensuring that you’re monitoring your brand online and listening to the conversations taking place. There are several services and tools available from comprehensive service providers like Radian 6 and Trackur or set up keyword searches on free tools like CoTweet, Tweetdeck or Google News alerts (Note: I use CoTweet and Tweetdeck).
In the case of Motrin (now a classic case study), the company launched a new ad campaign in 2009 over a weekend. The response by mothers was immediate and overwhelmingly negative. However, no team members were monitoring the online conversations around the campaign. By the following Monday, traditional print and broadcast media had picked up the story, forcing the company to retract the ads and issue an apology. Crisis Communications did a great write up at Motrin Mom- A Case Study
If you’re monitoring and listening to conversations online in real-time, then the next key is proactively responding to issues as they begin to bubble up. If the response is sincere and demonstrates sensitivity to the issue, then a brand can quickly win over initial naysayers and impact overall sentiment.
A great example is JetBlue’s response to customer issues back in February 2007. While this may be “dated,” it demonstrated the first time that a CEO of a major corporation used social media , in this case YouTube, to respond to a building crisis. The response was timely and from a credible executive. Moreover, by using an informal medium such as YouTube, JetBlue’s CEO seemed more sincere than if he had assembled a press conference and broadcasted a written response.
In terms of a recent example, Airbnb is currently dealing with a crisis after a customer took to her blog to complain about Airbnb’s lack of response to renters trashing the host’s apartment. While the company is now offering insurance to hosts as part of its response to ameliorate the issue, the damage has been done with more stories starting to trickle out about similar experiences and slow response rates by the company.
Empowered Social Media Representatives
Which leads me to my next point – JetBlue was successful because the top executive supported the need to use social media to address the crisis directly. But this may not be the case for each organization and situation. In today’s world, front-line employees, such as sales, service representatives, and customer service, directly reflect your brand and have an opportunity to identify and address bubbling crisis.
By empowering front-line employees as “social media representatives,” organizations have an opportunity to address issues in real-time while ensuring that responses and actions are consistent with your brand messages. Otherwise, you might have a parody song written about your brand as in the case of “United Breaks My Guitar”:
Conclusion: Active Participation and Engagement
While the above tips will help brands to react to prospective issues, brands should actively participate in and engage with its online community. This not only demonstrates your commitment to your customers, but also builds trust with your community through transparency and openness; which in turn creates a community of brand evangelists who will defend your brand in times of need.
And in a 24/7, always-on world, you never know when a crisis will arise. But by listening, monitoring, empowering, participating, and engaging, you’ll have more allies to defend your brand than ever.
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Cece Salomon-Lee is director of marketing for ACTIVE Network, Business Solutions division, and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.
This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.