In the last of our social media posts this month (see what we've already covered at the bottom of the post), we thought it was time to talk about how brands can best arm themselves against the onslaught of the social media savvy public.

Avoid the crisis in the first place.  Not much you can do about things like natural disasters, transport crashes, illness or death, some instances of technical failure, and so on.  And sometimes brands need to take knowing, calculated risks - for example, a utilities company might take the calculated risk to offshore their call centre, knowing that there’s likely to be some consumer backlash, but that the business case makes it a risk worth taking. As long as you’ve (honestly) identified the issues you’re likely to face and their impact on the business, you should know whether it’s worth it. 

But then there are the foreseeable issues which could have been avoided by taking business action, and often they may depend upon different silos within the organisation informing, consulting, and listening to each other.  Think about the Nestle Palm Oil debacle, so beloved of us crisis pundits.  How much different would the story have been if someone in PR had sat the sourcing team down early in the process and said “Really? We need to get our palm oil from there? But if Greenpeace get hold of the story, there'll be an uproar ..." 

And Qantas marketing would have done well to have talked to their PR department  before launching the #QantasLuxury hashtag very shortly after the CEO had grounded the entire Qantas fleet, stranding 68,000 passengers across the globe.  (A reminder that an editorial calendar should be a flexible tool).  The irate responses to the marketing campaign even included a Hitler Downfall parody (the social media #fail equivalent of an Oscar) ...



 
Handle it correctly over social media channels
The way a crisis plays out over social media has fundamentally changed the way the communication of a crisis unfolds. News of a crisis is more likely to break on Twitter than any other channel, so there’s virtually no opportunity for a brand to control how the crisis is first communicated. At best, you’re playing catch up with your social audiences. So the way we approach handling a crisis has changed. Taking the Qantas example above, the way that both the grounding situation and the backlash to the #QantasLuxury campaign was handled were heavily criticised.

 No matter what your legal teams say, doing nothing is no longer an option (as Blackberry found to its cost in the early days of its outage in October last year). How you respond on social channels can do much to neutralise, or inflame, the situation.

Preparing for a crisis
Together with our partners Carrot Communications, we’ve developed a number of services to help clients prepare for a crisis, including:

  • Auditing a brand’s crisis processes,
  • Running workshops to identify crisis avoidance actions
  • Scenario testing

(for full details of what we offer, see our website).

However, as good as thorough preparation is (and believe us, it's crucial), nothing can really prepare for a social media crisis - except actually experiencing one.  Which is why, together with Carrot Communications, we’re also helping a number of brands to practice their response to a crisis with a social media simulation tool which mimics social media channels in a secure environment. It's a crisis without the pain.



The social media simulation workshop

Each simulation is developed specifically for a client, and takes a scenario that each client could potentially face: from retail recalls to disgruntled employees posting videos on YouTube or an aviation disaster. We look at how the crisis might unfold over services like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, news sites, and forums, and mimic these channels in a live simulation. Teams of trained community managers from eModeration are behind the scenes, providing the public response as if this was happening live, so the brand can practice how to respond to different groups, over different channels.  The 'attack team' of community managers are experienced in handling all sorts of crises, so they are better placed than most to know how the public is likely to react, lending the rehearsal authenticity.

The simulator responds to the brand team's input: so, for example, it will incorporate their tweets into the Twitter response, or their press statements into developing news stories. (Of course, all this happens in a closed, secure environment, not on the channels themselves.)

Acting out a crisis situation in  near-reality both exposes any gaps in the crisis plan and gives your social media team invaluable experience. You wouldn't expect to be able to drive a car from reading the highway code, and the hands-on taster is a great team training tool. If you'd like to know about the crisis simulation workshop, or any of our other social media crisis tools, see our see our website or email tamara@emoderation.com.

See also our previous social media crisis posts this month:
Tips for using social media in product recall
When social media humour #fails - if it ain't funny, don't say it.
What we can learn from the crisis: Volkswagen vs. Greenpeace