The advent of social media has radically altered the context in which the reputation of an organisation is managed. Social media can be friend and foe. On the one hand, social media platforms are immensely powerful channels to reach stakeholders with your planned message but on the other, the same characteristics that enable this, namely speed of communication, prevalence and pervasiveness, can also precipitate and catapult an organisation into crisis.
The way that events transpire online and, more specifically, on social media platforms are now intimately linked to how organisations fare once times get tough. With 72% of all Internet users active on social media and over 500 million users on Twitter alone businesses can no longer afford to endure the potential for either reputational or financial damages that come hand in hand with todays social media crisis if poorly managed.
So, in the spirit of learning from the mistakes of others, we outline three top social media crises of last year and examine the lessons we can learn from them.
… Don’t Feed the Fire – Plan, Prepare, Anticipate
When British Gas announced a price rise of 9.2% in October last year their customer services team tried to engage with consumers in an attempt to ward off their concerns by the use of a Twitter Q&A and the hashtag #AskBG.
With 7.8 million customers likely to be affected by an average price hike of £120 a year, the issue was clearly an emotive one. Yet, British Gas were not prepared to deal with the sheer volume of abuse that came their way. Within minutes, the British Gas account was flooded with sarcastic, abusive and reputationally damaging tweets, which in turn were quickly picked up by national newspapers.
Although the #AskBG campaign was well-intentioned and British Gas made a concerted effort to engage with customers through a Senior Director, the event caused a reputational backlash that could have been avoided with better forethought and planning.
Firstly, they simply did not have the capacity to answer all of the tweets put to them, giving the impression that they were being overrun. The issue of energy prices is a notoriously contentious and one that British Gas should have expected would attract mass hostile public involvement. British Gas were hit by a wave of public outrage and weren’t adequately resourced to manage it.
Secondly, holding a Q&A on the same day that the price hikes were announced and using an open hash tag was a gift for those affected to vent their anger. With a bit more forethought, this might have been anticipated and the Q&A held at a differenet time when the issue had settled.
Similar case studies: JP Morgan
…Avoid Automation – Make it personal
In July last year Occupy supporter, Mark Hamilton, was chased away from a New York City branch of Bank of America (BoA) by police after writing an anti-foreclosure message on the pavement outside. Mr Hamilton tweeted a picture of the police and his protest slogan soon after, a tweet in which BoA was tagged.
After being picked up by the Occupy movement and re-tweeted numerous times, the protesters started receiving some rather startling replies. The bank began sending chirpy responses to the Occupy protesters asking them if they could review their account and discuss any of their concerns with them… despite not one mention of those involved actually having an account with the Bank.
Other users quickly picked up on this and began tweeting their own grievances, to which the bank kept on replying with identical, generic and impersonal offers of help.
Although BoA has since claimed that social media bots did not create these tweets, the fact that BoA staff responded with generic pre-scripted replies, which didn’t even make sense in the context, only helped to strengthen the view of those involved that the Bank was a faceless and unfeeling organisation.
Using non-specific and impersonal language on social media detracts completely from the reason people choose to use it in the first place, turning social media platforms instead into the digitalised experience of being stuck on hold. Social media should be the chance to bring a human face to an otherwise untouchable conglomerate. BoA should have used this opportunity to engage with disconcerted stakeholders and those within the Occupy movement. Instead, by sticking to pre-sanctioned scripts they alienated themselves even further.
Similar case studies: American Airline
…Don’t Take Your Eyes of the Ball – Keep it Timely
In 2013, supermarket giant Tesco faced a wave of public criticism after traces of horse DNA were found in at least four of their own brand beef products. The incident not only highlighted issues with the way that supermarkets were sourcing their products but also raised the question of how much we could actually trust the supermarkets to enforce their own standards. The scandal was widely reported across national and international news channels while at the same time captivating the public interest with an endless capacity for puns.
In an otherwise well managed response, two days after the scandal broke Tesco tweeted to their 47000 followers, ‘It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay!’.
Clearly, such a poorly timed quip did not sit well with the British people and was widely decried to be in bad taste. Tesco quickly apologised, claiming that the tweet had been scheduled prior to the scandal breaking and that they had forgotten to remove it when the issue broke. It’s a cautionary tale that anyone involved with social media should heed.
Social Media is a time-sensitive platform whose content, and the very meaning of that content, is forever changing as events unfold. Pre-scheduling tweets may well save time during normal working conditions, however, when you are a company under scrutiny or in the midst of a social media furore, every tweet needs to be screened for sensitivities.
Similar case studies: British Airways
The reputational backlash that big business has faced over offensive tweets, controversial statements and monumental meltdowns will remain in the public consciousness as a reminder of just what not to do when faced with a social media crisis. But, it must also be remembered that with understanding and proper preparation, social media can be used as a force for good.