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Don’t Let Your Brand Be a Social Media Statistic

Don’t Let Your Brand Be a Social Media Statistic

Mike Stopforth




Hardly a week goes by where some major global brand isn’t being held to ransom on social media.

Product glitches, leadership blunders, service failures or agency errors, even the smallest issues have the potential to explode into major crises.

While these whirlwinds of negative sentiment are sometimes justified, there are also those that are blown out of proportion. When the dust settles, and we have the benefit of hindsight, we often realize that there are two parts to any crisis; the actual incident, and the way the incident was perceived by the audience and then handled by the brand.

Ironically, often the brands that customers care about most are those that are exposed online, and more harshly treated. We work extremely hard and spend millions of dollars to create brands that people love and adore, only to realize that we have to match big promises with big deliveries to avoid the fallout if and when we slip up.

To understand how to address a social media crisis, we must understand why crises happens. Social media provides customers with a frighteningly low barrier to entry (and effort) for publishing complaints. Too many people are comfortable saying things behind the perceived security of their digital personas that they would never dream of saying in real life.

Also, because social media is an emotionally and politically charged public interface,

marketers, communicators and brand custodians often react more quickly and efficiently to issues expressed in this sphere than in more traditional one-on-one customer care environments like contact centers or email hotlines. We tend to reward the worst kinds of customer behavior in the digital medium, an all too common and crippling error in judgment. Customers have learned that they get better results from complaining in social media than in any other channel.

Many believe that trying to reverse customer behavior in social media is an insurmountable task, I still believe it’s worth standardizing the customer care experience across all available channels. While a social media crisis can destroy a brand in a matter of hours, inconsistency in customer care reactions will significantly erode brand equity over time.

But let’s get back to that moment your brand is unexpectedly embroiled in an online storm. You check Twitter, get a panicked phone call from an exec, or an emergency text from an agency partner, and your stomach falls through the floor. What’s your next move? Do you respond? Do you wait?

Our first response to a social media issue has a bigger influence in how it pans out than we’d like to admit. Often those first responses add credibility to issues that are in fact non-critical, half-true, or affects only a relatively tiny portion of our audience We don’t necessarily stop to consider the commercial impact of the crisis to calibrate our response. Our thinking can be clouded by the “pain” of seeing our beloved brand under attack. How can we make smarter decisions about our responses to social media crises that avert unnecessary brand damage, and turn these potential disasters into opportunities to showcase brand identity, values, and integrity?

We’ve identified three key qualifying questions that strip some of the emotion out of social media complaints, along with strategies to help us form smarter responses that minimize risk and maximize brand equity.

Is it True?

An angry customer tweets a complaint about a poor service experience in store. You tweet back immediately to their complaint, only to find out that the story has two sides; the customer was in error, and the store handled the situation effectively. Before doing the requisite homework, you’ve validated the credibility of the claim through your uninformed response, and poured gasoline on what was no more than a spark. Instead, take a minute or two to verify its authenticity. Untrue claims or bald-faced lies, more often than not, should not be justified with any response.

What or Who is the Source?

If you know a complaint is true, the next most important consideration is the credibility (and for that matter, influence) of the source. Is it an article from a credible news source? Is it a random customer with 12 followers on Instagram? Is it an up-and-coming artist representative of a vocal sub- culture? While we’d like to believe and tell everyone that all customers are equal, they are simply not in matters of crisis. The credibility and influence of the source, multiplied by the truth of the claim, equals the level of risk you face.

How prevalent is the conversation right now, and how quickly is the conversation spreading?

It may be the case that a high-risk topic has broken publicly but has only been picked up by a few scattered commentators. Is it riskier to engage the issue and potentially amplify it,

or to wait out a response to monitor how fast it gains momentum? Our instinct is almost always the latter and not the former. Timing is critical, and when we do choose to respond, our response must be well formed, as true and transparent as humanly possible, consistent with previous communication and promises.

Finally, a dose of humility goes a long way in matters of social media crises. We are not trained to do so as marketers, but it makes a great deal of sense to anticipate and plan for the worst, and hope for the best. Poor decisions are made when we are surprised, and we should endeavor to eliminate as many surprises as possible.