We do a lot of crisis management and crisis training for clients. There are certain new “truths” about how crisis can unfold across digital and social media that can put business at risk. The irresponsible videos from rogue employees at Domino’s Pizza, the thoughtless tweets from Kenneth Cole, and Tesco's struggle with an angry customer all had an impact on business.

The truths or qualities of social-fueled crisis are unmistakable. In social media, they can flare faster. Messages in social media can jump into traditional media thus flaring a lot more social media. Brands are held accountable online for how they respond (was it fast enough, sincere enough, contrite enough). Hacktivists have mastered the art of the groundswell and can move more nimbly and aggressively that most multi-national corporations. And so on.

Speed does matter

Speed is the one attribute that comes appropriately to mind first. The pundits all agree, “when the crisis hits the social Web you had better act fast…”Be ready to act fast but keep a cool head

Speed does matter. But so does judgment.  Not every flare up in social media will accelerate to a full blown crisis. The trick is to, of course, be ready, but also to keep a cool head and really listen and understand what is going on.

When detractors hijacked McDonald’s hashtags #meetthefarmers (promoting the farmers in their supply chain) and #McStories, the brand did not overreact. As Jim Nichols Imedia Connection said

“To its great credit, McDonald's does not appear to have done the "big corporation flip-out" we've seen from many large companies. They ceased the programs, learned a lesson, and moved on to further experimentation.”

I recently wrestled with two crisis where marketing efforts for brands earned complaints from users online. Knowing how things can get out of hand quickly, the brands were contemplating some serious and costly steps. Both kept a cool head and in both cases the flare-up was addressed simply and honestly. The community calmed down. The negativity on the Facebook wall slipped into timeline obscurity (no brand will ever have a timeline that is white as snow). 

Motrin missed opportunity

The well known “Motrin Moms” case may be one where the impulse to act quickly resulted in over-reaction and a missed opportunity. Moms reacted to a brand produced video spot joking that some moms wore their child as a fashion accessory. Not only did sociail media light up but traditional media covered it on the trades (AdAge) all the way to USAToday.

Within about 48 hours of the flare up, J&J McNeill Labs pulled the video and sent an apology to at least one of the bloggers who, of course, published it. Could they have engaged their critics in a conversation about their complaints and the brand’s intention? Could they have even solicited those critics to define the next video that did more accurately express their concerns? Possibly. I don’t want to be revisionist here. It was 2008 which was early days in brands getting comfy with social network interaction.  

Today, the brand would likely have the option of keeping the video running while constructively talking with critics about how they might improve the videos. 

Listen, learn and grow a thick skin

Thorough training and plans for crisis in the social age are important. No one at a brand wants their Faceboook wall filled with negativity or venom. At the same time, it pays to carefully analyze the situation and not overreact.  It’s possible that the issue and the complaints center on a vocal few. If addressed early and responsibly, it may not be necessary to pull the social media fire alarm. Providing the complaints have not mucked up your search results and only haunt your Facebook page, you may just need to grow a thicker skin.