If you’re a brand on social media, you should have a crisis communication plan in place. If you don’t, there’s no time like the present to get that done! Here’s how to ensure you’re prepared for a social media crisis.
While you’re crafting that plan or checking in on and refreshing an existing one, you can also take a moment to learn from how three different brands approached three different social media crisis of varying levels.
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United: The importance of leaving room in a rote response
You may remember the recent kerfluffle on Twitter when a prominent user tweeted about some passengers not being allowed to fly because of the way they were dressed (wearing leggings). United has since faced a crisis of much larger magnitude, but we’re going to focus on this smaller one for the scope of this particular post. The girls weren’t allowed to fly in leggings, it turned out, because they were flying on a pass that essentially made them representatives of the company which requires a dress code. Passengers paying full-price for their tickets are not held to the same standard of dress. United made this clear in their immediate response and in their follow-ups in the coming days:
To our customers…your leggings are welcome! Learn more about our company’s pass travel privilege: https://t.co/5e3euG1H9G.
— United (@united) March 27, 2017
Unfortunately when emotions were high during the initial growth of this “incident”, the responses from the company came across as somewhat clipped and lacking situational understanding. This approach is completely understandable for a large brand that has a large staff to hold to specific standards, but smaller brands can learn from this: Could United have avoided some of the blowback from this if their social response team had been allowed to craft a more personable reply? This strict adherence to blandly repeating policy without compassion has since come back to haunt them in even larger magnitude in their more recent PR crisis.
If they had been able to reply that while this was a dress code violation, it might well be time to re-evaluate wether the current dress code makes sense with modern standards of dress, for example, it might have de-escalated the situation somewhat.
The takeaway here? Be sure your social team has a little room to make some judgement calls on the appropriate thing to say in the moment while working within the established guidelines of your brand voice, values and crisis communication documents.
DiGiorno: The power of a personal reply
A few years ago the DiGiorno Social Media Manager made a fatal mistake: Using a trending hashtag without first clicking through to see how it was being used. Their lighthearted, pizza-centric joke unintentionally hijacked the conversation of domestic abuse survivors sharing their stories on the hashtag #WhyIStayed (pizza was not involved).
We’ve written in-depth about this particular crisis communication moment before, but the big takeaway here remains the same: It’s easy for users to forget that there are human people running those big-brand accounts and human people will mess up sometimes no matter how many failsafes are in place. DiGiorno’s Social Media Manager’s reaction to their mistake was to own up to it completely and transparently, but they took it a step further than they had to by personally responding to everyone reaching out to the brand to say they were upset by this tweet.
The Red Cross deals with disaster on a daily basis and so they were well qualified to say that this incident simply didn’t count as one. They deleted the errant tweet and “confiscated the keys”, managing to turn the whole thing down from crisis level with a clever joke.
To make matters even better, the beer brand innocently brought into the fray- Dogfish Head- decided to turn this into a moment for charity. That simple act turned the whole thing from a potential PR crisis to a PR boost for both brands.
The lesson here? It is possible- probably even in 2017 Twitter- to keep a small mistake from snowballing into a PR nightmare by thinking on your feet. Having a crisis communication plan based on your brand voice will give whoever has the keys to your brand’s account the confidence to handle things in the most appropriate way possible.
Prevent a crisis in the first place
The best way to prevent a crisis is to have comprehensive social listening in place to monitor your brand, branded hashtags, industry keywords, competitors and more. This is the easiest way to catch an issue before it blows up and worse case scenario, goes viral and makes it into the mainstream news cycle, as United is currently experiencing.
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