Yesterday, we looked at John Bell’s argument for creating a digital crisis management plan for your organization or client, in case your brand ever finds itself threatened by a PR catastrophe, (more of a when than an if, by the way) and determined a few simple things:
1. Putting together a digital crisis management plan isn’t that difficult or expensive.
2. Not having a digital crisis management plan will someday make your life unnecessarily difficult.
3. Not having a digital crisis management plan will cost you a lot more on the back end than what it would have cost you to put it together.
4. Better to have a digital crisis management plan and never need it, than need it and not have it.
Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s put it all in perspective. David Sarno and Alana Semuels wrote a terrific piece last week for the LA Times that illustrates the need for this type of planning in the era of the Social Web, citing examples of good and poor DCM performances among brands like CNN, Domino’s, Skittles and Amazon.com. From the article:
Last week, Domino’s was handed a PR nightmare when a video showed up online showing two employees laughing as they prepared food in a deliberately unsanitary way. The video quickly garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
Domino’s initial instinct was to try to dispose of the situation quietly by responding only to concerned consumers who had already seen the video, rather than risk broadening its exposure by making a public statement.
But chatter about the problem spilled over into Twitter, whose expansive micro-messaging network is becoming an online circulatory system for news, pumping information between media organs, consumers and businesses themselves.
The Ann Arbor, Mich., company posted a YouTube response of its own and even established a Twitter account to answer direct questions from customers.
“What we’ve learned is if something happens in this medium, it’s going to automatically jump to the next,” Domino’s spokesman Tim McIntyre said. “So we might as well talk to everybody at the same time.”
Okay, so clearly, Domino’s was listening and had a solid crisis management plan in place… though its digital/social web elements were still on the weak side. Fortunately, what the plan lacked in digital channel coverage, it made up for in adaptability: The crisis management team quickly analyzed the problem, assessed the channels, and adapted to the situation. Most companies today would not have been so lucky or effective. Take Amazon.com, for example:
When Amazon was faced with its own consumer outcry last week, it decided to forgo the social media route.
Without warning, many gay- and lesbian-themed books began disappearing from the site’s search results and sales rankings. The Twittersphere instantly saw red, accusing the Seattle company of discrimination and censorship and demanding a response.
But Amazon stayed mostly mum. It waited most of a day only to cite an unspecified “glitch,” and when that vagueness only fomented the outrage, it released a second clipped statement blaming a “cataloging error.”
But Twitter abhors a vacuum, and commenters rapidly filled Amazon’s silence with boycott threats, petitions and caustic accusations — an outcome that suggests that the growth of social media may be driving up the cost of inaction.
So here we have two similar scenarios: An angry public driving an issue all over the social web (which incidentally carries over to the water cooler, locker room and car pool) that could potentially have a devastating impact on a company’s business and cause real damage to its brand. In one corner, we have Domino’s, which quickly understood that a) a slow or otherwise inadequate response and b) ignoring social channels like YouTube and Twitter would be ill-advised. In the opposite corner, you have Amazon.com, whose response seemed neither swift nor adequate (judging by the public’s response, anyway).
As a business owner or manager, ask yourself this: Which company would you rather be? The one that responds swiftly and well across all relevant channels, or the one that gets a black eye for not having planned for inclement PR weather?
Enter the ever brilliant Jeremiah Owyang, senior analyst with Forrester Research (and active thought leader in the Social Media space) with some advice for companies not yet active in the Social Web:
“Every brand misstep can spur social-media denizens these days, which affects even those companies that don’t actively participate.
To stay safe in the social media minefield, brands need to make sure to secure their own domain names in the various online environments — before any squatters do — and then start to build a community there. Then when a crisis happens, online or off, brands can then use that community to their advantage.“
In other words, Company XYZ shouldn’t wait for a crisis to establish listening posts and community hubs across whatever social web platforms seem relevant (usually the most well attended): Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
Your fans can become your biggest allies when bad press comes your way, and trust me on this: Given the choice between going at it alone (even with the best PR team in the world) and having several thousand brand advocates taking up arms for you on your day of need, you want the latter.
The point being (beating a dead horse again) that the world has changed. The channels of 2009 are not the same as the channels of 2005. In the same vein, the public at large, especially the hundreds of millions of consumers (voices) who now inhabit and seed the social web, are not as docile and easily manipulated as they might have been in 2005 or 1995 or 1955, even. The public’s role in the success and failure of brands is evolving as quickly as the technologies that empower it.
Every brand is accountable for its shortcomings 24/7 now. Every brand is under constant attack. Therefore every brand (without stressing out over it) should be monitoring trends and spikes in these attacks across all channels – traditional and digital. Every brand should know how to differentiate between noise and signal (what to ignore vs. what to address). And lastly, every brand should have a (digital) crisis management plan in place for those rare but inevitable days when a swift and effective response is required. (See yesterday’s post.)
Welcome to a whole new era of brand communications and customer engagement. The faster you embrace it, the better off you and your business will be. (And if you don’t know where to begin with either online reputation management or digital crisis management, shoot me an email, phone call or tweet, and I will hook you up with folks who can help you.)
Have a great Wednesday!