This might be a wake up call, but social media has altered the style and tone your company should use in its communications. This will never be more evident than when you’re dealing with a crisis. You need to be personal, sincere and most of all keep the human element in front of you at all times. The last thing you want to do is sound like a heartless corporation run by robots tasked to save the bottom line at all costs. Humanity and humility are like gold on social media. The more of each you inject into your responses the better you’ll be.
The lifeblood of social media is people connecting with other people. The temptation in a corporate crisis situation is to create generic responses for the masses. That’s the opposite of what you do in social media. You need specific responses for individuals. Even if you’re saying the same basic thing to a hundred people on Twitter, just taking the time to respond individually to people is huge. It shows that you care. It shows that you’re human. It shows that you’re trying. It shows everyone else who’s observing the situation that you’re genuinely attempting to make things right. Don’t do what Epicurious did after an unfortunate few tweets following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. As you can see, it’s hardly a comforting response:
Be On The OFF Method
It may sound strange but if you have the endurance and have handled a crisis well from the outset you’ll find you can actually make gains after the dust settles. To do this use the OFF method from the moment you learn about the crisis:
O – Own it.
F – Fix it.
F – Flip it.
Owning the problem doesn’t mean you’re admitting you’re the problem. It means you’re going to take the lead on getting to the bottom of it. If you find out your product is, in fact, the issue, do what needs to be done to remove the products and make the appropriate public announcements. Be sure to follow up specifically with people who reached out to you early on. Don’t assume that a public announcement will help those early individuals concerned about the problem as much as a more personal comment and apology.
Owning it also means that if your company has done anything wrong, you’re going to say so. When you apologize you don’t want to use words that sound like you’re dodging responsibility. Be direct. Be specific. Be genuine. Perhaps you need to record a video message from your CEO explaining the problem, apologizing and then outlining the steps the company is taking. Post the video to YouTube and your Facebook page. Make it available on your company website. Once you own a problem you greatly help your chances of controlling the message and the long-term impact on your brand.
Now that you own the problem it’s time to start fixing it. If you need to issue a recall or follow a series of procedures, you’re obviously going to be in full swing there. On the social media front give regular updates about the process. The people who have been impacted will care. In the absence of communication consumers can begin to assume things about you that won’t necessarily be true. In the presence of communication, they will have to work much harder to come to those same assumptions. This means you may show pictures of your product being loaded back into boxes from a grocery store just to drive the point home that you’re on top of a recall.
If you’re in the unfortunate position of being innocent while public perception is that you’re guilty, work to publicly build trust by joining the hunt for the truth. Even if it becomes clear that your company is innocent, you can choose to stay involved in order to leverage the new connections and attention on your brand into something positive. This is the beginning of flipping the situation into something that works for you and bolsters your brand credibility.
Flipping a problem is looking for the silver linings around even the worst situations. When there’s a crisis your brand is given a platform you would not normally have. Once the problem goes away that attention could go away too unless you choose to stay engaged with it. Maybe that means you make a donation to a fund started to help people in some way impacted by your actions or send handwritten notes to people thanking them for understanding that you never intended for any harm to come and that you’re taking full measures to make sure nothing like this happens again. Maybe it means your CEO records a series of personal apology videos for people most concerned or hurt.
If it was determined that your products were not at fault, you now know a lot more customers directly and you might want to give them some free product to thank them for sticking with you through the tough time. Whatever the case, if you push through the hard part of the situation and muster up the emotional energy to stay engaged a bit longer you’ll be able to find those opportunities that can only arise on the other side of a crisis.
It’s Not Business. It’s Personal.
Social media connects all of us. It connect individuals to each other and it connects companies to individuals you never thought you’d hear from. The bottom line is that you have more direct communication methods at disposal than ever before. You can use them well to make a bad situation better. As long has you remember that you’re using personal communication tools for talking with real people, you’ll be well ahead of the curve to deal with any situation that may arise.