SO­CIAL CRI­SIS

Ne­ti­zency’s Tamara Habib on weath­er­ing on­line storms.

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - TAMARA HABIB Busi­ness direc­tor at Ne­ti­zency

With in­creased con­nec­tiv­ity, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of smart­phones and the rise of so­cial me­dia comes a plethora of woes for brands and their so­cial me­dia agen­cies. From dis­sat­is­fied cus­tomers to lo­gis­tics is­sues, or even rogue em­ploy­ees, just about any­thing can set off a so­cial me­dia de­ba­cle. And that’s why now, more than ever, brands don’t have a choice but to be equipped with the right strat­egy to re­spond to their cus­tomer base at all times.

So­cial me­dia has given con­sumers un­prece­dented ac­cess to brands, al­low­ing them to hold those brands ac­count­able in real time. Con­sumers who are frus­trated with un­re­spon­sive­ness on reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels (phone, email) can em­ploy – and in­creas­ingly do – vig­i­lante tac­tics to get a brand’s at­ten­tion.

United Air­lines seem to have missed this memo, how­ever, hav­ing raked in so­cial me­dia cri­sis af­ter cri­sis over the past few years. One fi­asco was when United dam­aged a pas­sen­ger’s gui­tar and re­fused to re­im­burse him. Said pas­sen­ger, a singer-song­writer, de­cided to write a song de­cry­ing their cus­tomer ser­vice, and posted it on YouTube. The video now has more than 18 mil­lion views.

More se­ri­ously, United made head­lines again two years ago when it vi­o­lently dragged a pas­sen­ger off a flight, for no rea­son other than it needed his seat to make room for its own em­ployee. The video of the as­sault was posted on so­cial me­dia, gar­ner­ing numer­ous views and fur­ther dam­ag­ing United’s rep­u­ta­tion. To make mat­ters worse, the United CEO’s re­sponse was far from re­morse­ful, fo­cus­ing on how the air­line re­gret­ted hav­ing to “re-ac­com­mo­date” some pas­sen­gers, fur­ther fu­el­ing con­sumers’ anger.

Need­less to say, United’s abu­sive be­hav­iour and lack­lus­tre re­sponse lead to sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial reper­cus­sions, with nearly $1bn axed from the com­pany’s value on Wall Street only a day af­ter the drag­ging in­ci­dent, and more than 40 per cent of mil­len­ni­als stat­ing they would ei­ther no longer fly United or avoid giv­ing it their busi­ness.

It’s not just con­sumers that are a source of headaches for mar­keters – em­ploy­ees can also be­come a brand’s worst nightmare, a fact Domino’s Pizza is all too fa­mil­iar with. In 2009, two of its em­ploy­ees in the US went rogue when they filmed a prank in the restau­rant’s kitchen, vi­o­lat­ing sev­eral health-code stan­dards. The video was posted on YouTube, gath­er­ing a mil­lion views be­fore it was taken down.

Domino’s ini­tial re­sponse was sub­dued, in an ef­fort to avoid alert­ing more peo­ple to the story. But it even­tu­ally pub­lished a video fea­tur­ing Domino’s USA’s pres­i­dent apol­o­gis­ing for the in­ci­dent, and re­sponded to in­di­vid­u­als on­line, re­it­er­at­ing its com­mit­ment to de­liv­er­ing un­tainted prod­ucts to its cus­tomers—a re­sponse that was deemed rather slug­gish and tame by many.

Some brands, on the other hand, sim­ply fail to com­mu­ni­cate the right mes­sage to their con­sumers. Last year, Dove launched a body­wash ad depict­ing a black woman pulling off her T-shirt to re­veal a white woman un­der­neath. It was per­ceived to be racially in­sen­si­tive, caus­ing a so­cial me­dia up­roar. Though the brand apol­o­gised swiftly and with­drew the ads, it may have harmed some­thing much more valu­able than its bot­tom line: its brand ethos, un­rav­el­ling the en­tire premise of its 13-year-old “Real Beauty” cam­paign.

That said, some brands get things re­ally right when deal­ing with a cri­sis. When KFC changed its de­liv­ery provider in the UK ear­lier this year, lit­tle did it know that it would face a #KFCCri­sis due to de­liv­ery prob­lems that forced al­most 700 KFC out­lets to tem­po­rar­ily shut down. Fans were up in arms, tak­ing no time to voice their dis­ap­point­ment on so­cial me­dia – even go­ing so far as to file re­ports with the po­lice in some in­stances.

KFC man­aged to sal­vage the sit­u­a­tion by swiftly craft­ing a bril­liant apol­ogy ad that con­veyed the brand’s sense of hu­mour by turn­ing the brand’s logo into a cheeky “FCK”. It owned up to the short­age and promised a quick res­o­lu­tion.

In the end, while rev­enue losses were in­evitable, KFC man­aged to turn an un­for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion into one that not only saved its rep­u­ta­tion but also helped fur­ther build affinity with its con­sumers.

Though a brand mishap lead­ing to a so­cial cri­sis is al­most in­evitable in this day and age, no two crises are the same. By the same to­ken, no two so­cial me­dia cri­sis man­age­ment plans should be the same. Craft­ing a strat­egy is fun­da­men­tal: de­cide on what counts as a cri­sis, agree on who should be in­volved, who should ar­tic­u­late your mes­sage clearly and un­equiv­o­cally and who should de­liver it, make sure that you have the right lis­ten­ing tools set up to track the right key­words, and en­sure that all other com­mu­ni­ca­tion is stopped un­til the cri­sis sub­sides. Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, two things are ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary: speed and trans­parency. If there’s any­thing that we can learn from the cases we’ve just dis­cussed, it’s that con­sumers are smart, dis­cern­ing, and ever-present on so­cial me­dia, so a “no bull” ap­proach is the only way to go.

Some brands, on the other hand, sim­ply fail to com­mu­ni­cate the right mes­sage to their con­sumers.

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