Never before have brands needed to interact more with the public. When a crisis hits it’s no longer acceptable to batton down the hatches and meet concerned consumers with a wall of silence.
This is what Northern Rock found to their cost when calamity struck this year.
When digital is becoming a key tool for brands to communicate with their consumers how can it best be used in a crisis situation?
We put the question to the UTalkMarketing Editorial Board to gague their thoughts: Paul Mead, Managing Director of VCCP Search; Christy Stewart-Smith, Consultant to AMV BBDO; and Toby Roberts, Head of Strategy, OMD UK
Paul: We were looking at the Google Trends for Northern Rock and there was the biggest spike you’ve ever seen when they hit the headlines. There was no communication whatsoever with their consumers and so they were going on to Google and asking, “What should I do?”
Christy: It’s best practice crisis management and always will be.
Paul: The point is all the brands which are messing it up have a PR agency or a digital agency, or a search agency. They are obviously not briefing their agencies properly or are just telling their PR agency, “Get me some cuttings.” With the HMRC it’s exactly the same situation. People were concerned to know if the issued applied to them and were looking advice on what to do if their data was out there.
Toby: It’s brands that get on top of these situations and decide who’s responsible that come out tops.
Paul: Brands are not using digital properly as a means of dealing with crises. It’s one of those things that has just fallen down the back of the sofa in terms of making a connection with consumers. It’s a channel that has so far just been used for direct response. It should be about so much more that selling DVDs and flights. It should be thought about as a communications medium as well.
Christy: There are some interesting businesses being set up to manage crisis management online. But it will take or two of these scenarios before brands think they are worth being kept on a retainer.
Paul: There are examples of brands which have got on top of it and are doing things in this area. But the point is, what comes up for your brand on the first page of Google is incredibly influential in terms of perception and reputation and it’s so easy to get something negative ranked there.
If you’re a pissed off consumer you can put a video on YouTube, you can write a blog, set up a Facebook group. If on the back of search, some of these negative posts rank on the front page, which is prime real estate for a brand, and can be seen by millions.
There was great one from the biggest cable company in the US with some 20 million customers, ComCast. A service man came round to repair a TV and was on the phone so long to the call centre that he fell asleep on the couch. The consumer videoed him and added a soundtrack by The Eels called “I need some Sleep” and posted it on YouTube where it got over a million hits. This now comes up as about the third link for ComCast when you do a search.
Toby: The same’s true for Ryanair. Do a search and sites complaining about the airline come really high up.
Paul: And there was the HSBC incident when the bank was forced to back down after students protested on Facebook.
Christy: The difficulty with a lot of these things is brands are exporting old world techniques into a new world media and getting badly bitten as a result. Marketers always try to be quite controlling, as you may notice they use marshalling words such as “campaign” and “attack”.
Almost all marketing words have come from the battlefield and so it’s very difficult to move into a world where you have to interact with people where it’s much more about seduction and relationships.
Toby: When Sony launched the Bravia ‘Balls’ campaign this, there was a huge amount of public interest just around the filming of it. Everyone was taking photos from their windows and posting it on blogs. Their initial thinking was, “We’re not going to show this to anyone until it’s been through five rounds of post-production and it’s perfect.”
But putting it out there in advance was phenomenally successful. It’s like Google’s Beta approach where they say, we haven’t finished this yet, but what do you think? The only problem with some marketers is they can get so wrapped up in their brand that they think the world thinks the same about their brand as they do.
Paul: They forget that people are on social networks to engage and have conversations, not necessarily about brands. Too many brands think along the lines of we’re launching this thing, and decide they must have a website. We’ll ask them what they want a website for, but they just want one. We’ll build great site but after launch some of them wonder why’s no one coming to our website? That’s because they haven’t thought about things strategically.
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