Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crisis Management on Twitter

Crisis management doesn’t operate on an eight to five schedule and it never has. Before social networks existed, as we know them today, there were several strategies one could take when dealing with a crisis. “No comment” was often seen as the best way to stall a journalist as the PR team crawled into the war room to brainstorm as fast as they could to reach some kind of ‘official comment’ and ‘long term strategy.’ 

Today this kind of crisis management can not, and does not, compete with the ferocious speed and reputation-wrecker that is known as ‘The Tweet.’ What you spend years in building, 140 characters can knock down within hours, even minutes. As Publicists we must rethink the trade.

Crisis Management on Twitter 

I’ve written articles on why you should be on Twitter and suggested several strategies on account management. What these articles all stress is that to survive in the social media realm you have to start from a position of trust. Companies that set up a Twitter account as a crisis occurs have minimal influence and power because they haven’t gained this trust.

H&M - Case Study

When the New York Times broke a story about clothes retailer H&M cutting large amounts of unsold clothing, making them unwearable, the organization used the “no comment” strategy to deal with the situation. Sorry boys, that doesn’t cut it anymore. 

“Astute Tweeters picked up their error in crisis management and suddenly H&M found itself in trouble, as this quote from a Technorati blog explains

Tweets lashed out at H&M for what people saw as gross lack of charity in not donating the items. Others keyed in on the environmental faux pas of throwing useable clothes in the garbage. And almost all marvelled at how the retailer could be so callous to the obvious financial hardships people faced in the current economy. It became a firestorm.” (Source: Bernstein)

When H&M finally issued a statement, the damage was done.

Eurostar - Case Study

In 2009 Eurostar found one of its high-speed trains, full of paying customers, stuck deep inside the 31.6-mile tunnel between London and Paris. Thousands of passengers were stranded on other trains needing access to that same tunnel enroute to various destinations. What was being done to fix the situation? How long would it take to fix? 

With no word from Eurostar the Twitter community was ablaze with complaints at a rate of nearly one tweet per minute. If Eurostar had its act together they only had to use their Twitter account to connect with their customers, provide them with timely updates on what they were doing to resolve the problem, and at the very least customers would feel that their voices were being heard. 

As it happens there was no official Eurostar Twitter ID in place for crisis management. Journalists and passengers seeking real time information on the crisis heard no official Eurostar response. No updates. No apology. Silence. 

Innovative Beverage Group Holidings Inc - Case Study

In comparison, Innovative Beverage Group Holdings Inc., whose website crashed after a surge in traffic following a segment on Fox News, notified consumers on its Twitter feed that it was working to resolve the problem. The company also did a search on Twitter for mentions of the site crash so it could respond with tweets describing its repair efforts. 

"Twitter gave us an up-to-the-minute ability to take what would normally be a crisis situation and make it just another event," says Mr. Bianchi. "You can't do that with a 1-800-number." (Source: Wall Street Journal)

Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.

Over the weekend many people became acquainted with the above photo for the first time. Although a hoax, the picture soon became a PR problem for McDonalds. 'Seriously McDonalds' began to trend on Twitter as people began to re-tweet the offensive photo. 

To McDonald's credit they didn't ignore the hoax, jumped on their Twitter account, and issued an official response:

So why does any of this matter to you and your company? 

Eurostar is a multimillion-dollar company and it didn’t have a Twitter account set in place ready to go. McDonald's is a gigantic corporation, and even it couldn't stop a reputation-damaging meme from spreading like wildfire. Just imagine how hard it is for the average company.

Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail. Twitter is growing, that there is no denying. There are even murmurs amongst the blogs that Twitter could even overtake the mighty Facebook in years to come.  That remains to be seen.  But what is clear is you will need to get a Twitter strategy in place before you need it.  Playing 'catch-up' won't cut it.


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