Social media is usually a boon to businesses because it offers the ability to spread brand awareness amongst targeted audience in a fast and cost-effective manner. But, this free-to-access, open and unrestricted form of digital media could also turn into a curse by causing businesses to suffer from potential social media disasters as could be seen in case of a number of brands with social media presence on numerous occasions before.
While there are stories of brands (e.g. Greggs, Burger King etc.) that went ahead and turned horrendous social media slips into something good, there are also stories of brands (e.g. J P Morgan, British Gas, British Airways etc.) that were not able to assess the social media crisis situation well enough so as to take the required steps to prevent the crisis from damaging their brands further.
In case of any social media disaster, what counts the most is the calibre and experience of the team that is managing the crisis. Equally important is the set of procedures that the team has put in place to deal with such crisis. Please note that social media slips are bound to happen because we all know that ‘To err is human’. Hence, you should draw a well thought-out crisis management plan in advance with the help of a team of social media professionals to be able to cope up with any social media backlash as a sensible business. In this context, Winston Bao Lord (president of Venga) rightly says, “I think you can’t play out every scenario because you just don’t know, but you can plan out certain buckets to be prepared. In every industry you can always identify potential PR disasters.”
Severity of any social media backlash is something that social media professionals must ponder upon while dealing with any social media disaster. A brand might find itself at the centre of either a very simple social media fail such as posting of any harmless link to funny video or a personal message on business accounts, or a very horrendous social media tornado, such as inappropriate opinion, insensitive statement, early release, false reward and hacking, that could seriously put the brand image to jeopardy. While the first type of social media fail is less severe and easy to rectify, the latter type is extremely severe and very hard to fix. Hence, you have a strong reason to deploy a team of extremely good social media professionals who could help your brand recover from any social media mishap smoothly.
Now, we shall discuss below two social media PR disasters that happened with two specific brands recently, and you would be surprised to see how one brand tried to defend the crisis in such a way that failed to placate many outraged people on social media while the other brand happened to snatch triumph from the jaws of its social media slip.
Social Media Disaster: Times Of India Daily Newspaper (#IStandWithDeepikaPadukone)
On 14th September, 2014, Times Of India tweeted a picture of a leading bollywood actress, named Deepika Padukone, that was linked to a online photo gallery with the caption saying “OMG: Deepika Padukone’s cleavage show”.
Supposedly India’s ‘LEADING’ newspaper and this is ‘NEWS’!!?? pic.twitter.com/D3wiVVXuyM
— Finding Fanny (@deepikapadukone) September 14, 2014
This tweet from so-called responsible Indian daily got Deepika Padukone up in arms against the post and she responded to the national daily newspaper saying “YES! I am a Woman. I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!!??”
YES!I am a Woman.I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!!?? — Finding Fanny (@deepikapadukone) September 14, 2014
In order to tackle the situation, Times of India tweeted to enraged Deepika saying “It’s a compliment! You look so great that we want to make sure everyone knew! :)”
Times of India’s one-tweet response to Deepika’s outrage did nothing but add to the anger of social media followers and supporters of Deepika Padukone. In response to Times of India’s reply to Deepika, @sidmallya said “And the @TimesofIndia response may just have to go down as one of the most idiotic, shambolic and stupid responses of all time. Bravo”
And the @TimesofIndia response may just have to go down as one of the most idiotic, shambollic and stupid responses of all time. Bravo
— Sid (@sidmallya) September 14, 2014
If we take a look at the whole incident which attracted more than 25000 tweets from the fans and supporters of Deepika Padukone against Times of India over a period of just two days, we will see that Times of India hardly did anything worthwhile to placate the angry social media mob. Twitter was still trending with tweets from the supporters and fans of Deepika Padukone expressing their outrage against the daily newspaper with hashtag #IStandWithDeepikaPadukone even two days after the social media crisis broke out. Let us have a look at some of those tweets below:
Appalled….shocked and disgusted at the level of disrespect shown..Deepika or any women in the world cannot and should not stand for this!! — Karan Johar (@karanjohar) September 14, 2014
Complimenting a lady is a grace reserved for gentlemen! I stand on a tall tall chair and applaud you @deepikapadukone
— Boman Irani (@bomanirani) September 15, 2014
It is the high camera angle not a low neckline. What is low is the standard of journalism. Downright SICK!!! @deepikapadukone
— Anubhav Sinha (@anubhavsinha) September 14, 2014
The credibility of social media team of this renowned daily is definitely questionable. The team seemed to sit and watch the whole event unfolding without making any reasonable attempts to manage the social media PR crisis. There are some very serious questions to mull over in this case.
- Did the social media team assess the crisis in terms of volume of comments and potential impact?
- Did the team have sufficient number of people to respond to the deluge of negative comments?
- Did the team have any action plan about how such comments need be dealt with by the deployed members of staff (if any)?
- Did they have any idea that maximum responses to comments could show their caring attitude towards the audience which, in turn, could calm the angry audience down?
- Did the public face of Times of India consider addressing the masses about the issue via its newspaper or social media accounts?
- Did they provide frequent updates on how the issue was being dealt with? Did they consider pausing their regular updates until the issue was sorted out?
If social media team at Times of India had worked out a concrete social media PR crisis management plan in advance, it could have dealt with the situation in much better way.
What social media fans and supporters expect in such PR disaster situation is that the brand facing the social media crisis takes the ownership of the issue and fixes it. In this context, Winston Bao Lord (President of Venga) says “It’s coming clean and ponying up to anything you might be responsible for”. So, could the solution be a sincere apology from Times Of India to Deepika Padukone and the masses whose sentiments were hurt due to inappropriate statement? Probably yes. Just a casual response from Times Of India was probably not the adequate solution to handle the crisis.
Social Media Disaster: Greggs (#FixGreggs)
Greggs is the largest bakery chain with over 1600 outlets in the UK and was caught by a social media storm recently. Briefly speaking, Google image search results started showcasing an unofficial image of Greggs logo which was offensive to both Greggs and its patrons.
The Twitter account of Greggs was soon flooded with a number of messages about the issue. Greggs social media team quickly responded to those tweets and ran a campaign directed at Google with hashtag #FixGreggs.
— Greggs (@GreggstheBakers) August 19, 2014
Google soon yielded to the request of Greggs and its patrons by removing the offensive image from its search results. Look at the tweet below to get an idea as to how you could humanize your brand on social media.
— Google UK (@GoogleUK) August 19, 2014
Owing to this successful campaign of Greggs, there was a lot of positive sentiment associated with the brand in the end. Look at #FixGreggs to discover the positivity in the comments of Twitter users.
So, what exactly did the Greggs social media team do right to get a grip of the situation and turn it in their favour eventually?
Quick Response After The Complete Assessment Of Social Media PR Crisis
Imagine a situation in which you are with some of your critics who stop at nothing to criticize various aspects of your work. How awkward would it be if you responded to them 30 minutes after they were done with criticising? Your 30 minute silence would go against you. Greggs team understood the significance of addressing the issue in timely manner and responded to the comments promptly after assessing the landscape of social media crisis properly. The assessment includes a quick review of how sensitive the overall situation is and if the situation needs to be dealt with humour or sincerity.
Being Human Is Important
Yes, you have a brand image and whatever you write about on social media should reflect your brand values. But, you have to recognise the fact that you are dealing with unpredictable humans on social media platforms. Hence, your brand messages/posts/updates need be blended with human touch. Vouching for a human-like response, Scott Gerber (founder of Young Entrepreneur Council) says “At the end of the day, it’s about being brutally honest and humanizing the brand whenever possible.” This is exactly what Greggs social media team did to tackle the PR disaster. The team responded to tweets of people in the voice of a person as opposed to that of a business, and it was really effective in taking control of the overall situation.
In such type of situation, even if the brand has to resort to humour, self-depreciation and humility to deal with crisis effectively, it should do so without hesitation.
Let The Brand Ambassadors Vouch For You
Alright, you have messed up today. But, you must have done quite a lot of good things in the past on your business accounts because of which so many people chose to be your fans and followers. In case of any PR disaster, you should lean on the group of such brand ambassadors, comprising of social media fans and followers, who could vouch for you and help you recover from the PR crisis quickly.
Even Scott Gerber (founder of Young Entrepreneur Council) opines the aforementioned piece of thought and asserts that “The key to stopping a PR disaster in the social media world is building an incredible brand ambassador network by doing very well for your customers over a long period of time. If something happens, you have a network of people who know that that’s not you.” So, prepare a list of influencers who you could lean on when such crisis breaks out.
To sum it all up, any brand that is faced with such PR crisis should assess the entire situation fast, respond quickly to comments, add human touch to every conversation and let the influencers along with brand ambassadors speak up for the brand. What’s important is the smooth execution of everything that has been mentioned before. Who could execute it all smoothly? It is the people you have hired to manage your social media channels. So, pick up only the competent ones to do social media marketing for your brand.