Social Media: Where a Crisis Breaks and Organizations Lose Control
August 16, 2010 by Nuffer, Smith, Tucker

While facilitating a crisis media training session for a relatively large national brand, one of the participants quipped, “But I don’t even care about social media. I’d rather just deal with real people.”

So would most of us.  I long for the day when people less than a half-dozen steps away would get off their arses and have a conversation versus send a stream of e-mail notes. But I digress, and I was one of those curmudgeon print reporters 20 years ago (albeit a cub) who thought hell would freeze over before people would opt for reading their news on a computer monitor.

Every organization should realize social media’s impact on dissemination and consumption of information, news and entertainment. Market power is shifting from organizations and brands, consumer and trade, to the consumer largely because of technology. Social media continues to grow as a consumer tool for decision-making, and it still seems many organizations and brands either struggle with, or refuse to accept, how or why they need to know how to engage in the Internet-connected, Tweeting, Facebooking, photo- and video-uploading stakeholder-engaged world. The seemingly few who are connected, Tweeting, Facebooking, et al. and inviting engagement from stakeholders recognize these connections are good for their organizations, brands and their business.  They “get it” that engagement is critical, whereas hordes of others in social media just see this as another platform to push out marketing messages a la Web 1.0

This consumer-driven engagement brings peer-to-peer endorsements and criticisms on organizations, brands, products, services and issues to an extraordinarily higher level than ever experienced. Word, not too long ago, spread gradually – days, weeks, maybe even months.  Today, with the Internet and all its social media outlets, we’re talking a matter of hours and even minutes, and not just with the families on your block.  Consumers can reach entire communities locally and globally.

That alone has a profound impact on how we manage crisis situations.  Social media is becoming the preferred platform on which an organization’s crisis unfolds and where control of the matter at hand is won or lost.  And that preference is coming from all corners except the organizations facing the crisis.

A prime example is the “United Breaks Guitars” fiasco.  The airline refused to take responsibility for breaking Dave Carroll’s guitar, and after nearly a year of getting nowhere, Carroll released his now famous video about United on the Internet, exposing the airline’s poor customer service. The video gained more than 500,000 views within a week, and mainstream media, including CNN, NPR, CBS, USA Today, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other traditional outlets globally, picked up the story, some citing “digital revenge.” Experts far and wide said United waited too long, finally proclaiming on Twitter, “This has struck a chord w/us and we’ve contacted him directly to make it right.” Too little too late? Many say, “absolutely.”

Ditto for Domino’s.  The pizza HQ waited 24 hours before posting a response on YouTube, where two workers – clearly anticipating their Culinary Institute of America acceptance letters – literally picked at some new ideas for ingredients.

There’s also Nestle, when consumers got a sweet tooth for revenge over the company’s interactions with consumers and Greenpeace supporters on Nestle’s Facebook page.  When you insult someone online, be prepared for the mob mentality – and to never win.

And there’s British Petroleum.  Where do we begin?  How about just looking at the hijacking of its brand on Twitter (see @BPGlobalPR).  Yes, it can happen to you and most know it’s a fake, but the lesson is realizing the risk of losing control of your brand.

This is all what digital trends expert Steve Rubel says clearly about what we’re facing: “An entire generation is growing up that will never dial a 1-800 number to reach customer care.”

We are dealing with real people, about 227.7 million of them in the U.S.; just not on the phone or in person – they’re on your desktop, laptop, mobile phone, iPad and soon to the next tech gadget coming down the pipeline, except for Kin.

Are you ready?

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