By Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Gutenberg Communications, Harjiv Singh.
Microblogging services such as Twitter and an infinite host of other social media platforms have enabled anyone with online access to communicate instantly with a global audience. As such, we now live in a world of billions of potential influencers.
One person’s opinions about a company, regardless of whether those opinions are based on evidence, speculation or emotional impulse, can spread within minutes among networks comprising thousands, sometimes even millions, of individuals.
Unsubstantiated hearsay about a company can quickly harden into fact – and live on forever, popping up again and again in search engine results. And if those rumors go “viral” – that is, seen and distributed by enough people – it can attract the attention of the mass media, leading to a full blown communications crisis.
High-profile examples include Google’s alleged plans to buy Twitter, followed by another stating Apple would acquire the micro-blogging service for $700 million. As we know now, both rumors proved false, but the wild speculation grabbed the attention of the trade media and undoubtedly impacted industry decision-makers around the globe.
Whether an online conversation involves something unfounded or true, the worst reaction is to ignore it. Instead, organizations should take a ‘Murphy’s Law’ approach, that is, imagine the worst possible things that can be said about your brand and have a plan for quickly and effectively responding to them.
Here are five steps your organisation can take to anticipate and prepare for a communications crisis:
1. Know Who Will Do What
Your senior officers and communications team should create procedures to be followed in case of a crisis. Who within the organisation is designated to respond to rumors? What platforms will they use? Is there a company-wide manual that provides all employees with the dos and don’ts of reacting to online scuttlebutt or inquiries from professional journalists?
2. Anticipate What You Will Say
What are the typical scenarios that the organization might expect? Do they involve products, services, customer interactions, employee relations, financial markets, industry practices, corporate social responsibility or something else that can impact your stakeholders?
For each area, you can develop general messaging that can be quickly tailored to address a specific issue. Make sure those messages are consistent with the core messaging that your company uses in daily communications through all of its channels. The last thing your organization should do is send mixed messages.
3. Keep Your Eyes Open
Assign one or more employees to monitor online conversations about your organization. Make sure to have them monitor both mainstream news stories as well as those that appear in social media. These individuals should bring negative conversations to the attention of senior communications strategists who can then determine if next steps are necessary.
4. Be Responsive
The beauty of the Internet is that it enables two-way conversations. If, for example, your organization discovers an unhappy stakeholder on Twitter, invite the individual to speak with you via email, phone or some other channel that will enable you to give them personalized attention and address their concerns in detail.
5. If Appropriate, Be Humble
Be humble as an organization. Show that you’re willing to listen and change. Demonstrating a willingness to learn from mistakes and move forward can generate good will among stakeholders. For example, Motrin, the brand for a popular U.S. pain reliever, launched a new ad campaign implying that mothers use baby carrying devices as a fashion statement.
The campaign prompted an immediate, viral protest, with women denouncing the depiction on Twitter and even forming a Facebook group to boycott the product.
Motrin, which was closely monitoring social media discussions, immediately pulled the ads and apologized, helping to turn a potentially damaging gaff into an opportunity to engage in a positive conversation with its target audience.
Another instance involved a YouTube video of two employees, as a prank, tampering with food at a North Carolina Dominoes restaurant. When the video began spreading on the internet, the company posted its own YouTube video of its president reassuring viewers that appropriate actions had been taken.
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