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All companies should be prepared and ready to deal with possible PR crises, because they can damage a brands image and reputation. No matter how big a company is or how popular they are, complaints are inevitable. At some point in time, you’ll eventually come across bashers or customers who aren’t pleased with their experience.
For starters, you’ll need a social media crisis management plan to avoid making any issues bigger. But you should first be able to identify the crisis.
Here are a few examples of social media crises and how you can deal with them:
A multi-channel crisis is when the public is affected by what your brand posts. It could be that they are offended by or disagree with what you’ve published. One of the most dangerous crises a brand can experience is a multi-channel crisis because it can go viral immediately and attract a huge amount of negative publicity in a short span of time if left unchecked.
An example of multi-channel crisis is an incident that happened in January 2018, with the clothing retailer H&M. A black child was modelling a hooded top with the words “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The public was outraged by this, and many people were deeply offended. Even celebrities were reacting and tweeting about how they would refuse to work with the brand in the future. H&M ended up taking down the image and publicly apologizing about the incident.
Brands should be sensitive, considerate and careful when advertising and promoting their products or services, so as not to discriminate against minority groups. This particular example really made H&M’s audience rethink whether they should continue patronizing the brand.
In this kind of crisis, you should acknowledge the situation by apologizing to the public immediately. It’s always better to release a concise message before other influencers, journalists or media get in the way. Own up to what you did and assure everyone that it won’t happen again.
Let them know you will make sure all upcoming content will be evaluated thoroughly to avoid these types of situations. Make sure you are open for further questions. Be prepared to answer the who, what, where, when and why after you’ve released your statement.
Another brand that took advertising to the next level is IHOP. They flipped from IHOP to IHOB, literally from pancakes to burgers, as part of their 60th anniversary and new product introduction campaign. IHOP is known for being a house of pancakes, so when they decided to release the IHOB announcement teaser, people proceeded to fill in the lines on what it is about. Here is what the brand released in social media:
— IHOP (@IHOP) June 4, 2018
The internet reacted in different ways, some thought that it was humorous, and some took it seriously. Brands like Wendy’s, Netflix, and Burger King even joined the trend.
Not really afraid of the burgers from a place that decided pancakes were too hard.
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) June 11, 2018
brb changing my name to Netflib
— Netflix (@netflix) June 11, 2018
These are all funny, but some users failed to notice the small note in their announcement that it’s only a temporary change, which resulted in receiving negative feedback from its patrons. Marketers said that this stunt was a risk for the company.
Thankfully, IHOP handled it well by humorously interacting with users, which aligns with their brand and social media personality. They even created a “bancake list” for users who are against the IHOB stunt; you could only be removed from the list when you tweeted something nice.
The blan was to get beople talking about our new burgers. And it worked. Look at us, two silly pancakes talkin’ about burgers.
— IHOP (@IHOP) July 9, 2018
After officially launching the new burgers online, they eventually went back to the original IHOP name, and according to the brand, the campaign worked great since they got users to talk about the new offering.
A known media outlet in the Philippines mistakenly published a draft-card announcing a city-wide lockdown prior to the press conference of the president. The post alarmed the citizen caused panic; the media outlet immediately took down the post and released a statement regarding the matter.
During a nation-wide crisis, news outlets and publications must be wary of the information that they publish online. News publications are one of the first sources of information and are trusted by the general public. Sure, it is best to have graphics and copy on standby, but mistakenly clicking the publish button is definitely something that could be avoided. Immediate resolution to the issue must be put into place as soon as possible to avoid further miscommunication and harm to the brand’s credibility.
Working in fashion means that you must have good fashion industry knowledge and, of course, know the names of celebrities walking down the red carpet. In 2017, the British luxury fashion house Burberry committed a mistake of confusing Dev Patel for Riz Ahmed, creating a buzz online.
— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) February 13, 2017
Burberry promptly deleted the post and replaced it with the correct image. Despite acting swiftly, fans were able to pick up the mistake and called out the brand. Different news publications were able to get a hold of Burberry’s spokesperson and said:
“We apologise unreservedly for the incorrectly titled pictures of Dev Patel and Riz Ahmed posted late last night. This was a mistake that should not have happened and was corrected immediately. We have apologised directly to Dev and Riz. We are checking our processes to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” – Burberry Spokesperson
Mistakes like this must be avoided at all costs. Sure, real-time publishing is essential to events like this, but make sure to polish your process to prevent unnecessary slips.
An emerging crisis can and must be anticipated and be minimized at an early stage. Prospects who have no previous experience with your brand may be turned off. Existing customers, on the other hand, who had a positive experience with you in the past, may even question if they should repurchase or use your service again. Not addressing their concerns is like giving them a push to try your competitors’ products rather than encouraging them to stay loyal to your brand.
Complaints by customers are nearly always expressed on social media. Brands must watch out for these so that the issues don’t escalate quickly, or at all. This means you need to monitor your social media accounts as well as check for any brand mentions several times a day.
It’s a good idea to create a script or discuss how you can reply to customer queries and complaints. This way, you’ll know what to do and can act swiftly when the situation arises, preventing the issue from spreading further. Remember that posts can easily be shared or retweeted for more people to see, so time is of the essence.
In an emerging crisis, prospects who have no previous experience with your brand may be turned off. Existing customers, on the other hand, who had a positive experience with you in the past, may even question if they should repurchase or use your service again. Not addressing their concerns is like giving them a push to try your competitors’ products rather than encouraging them to stay loyal to your brand.
An Industry-Adjacent crisis occurs when a vendor or competitor is experiencing a social media crisis. Monitoring this kind of situation gives you a head start on how to deal with a similar potential disaster in the future.
Jojo Maman Bebe
One case of this would be the UK-based baby clothes retailer, JoJo Maman Bebe. Their products were too pricey for most of their customers, so a group emerged on social media called JoJo Maman Bebe Pre-Loved Buy and Sell.
The group gained more than 20,000 followers, which bothered the original brand. The Pre-Loved Buy and Sell group were selling the same products, but for a cheaper price. The original brand released an angry statement against the group complaining about why customers would buy second-hand goods. This statement was written by the brand accountant. It was said to be “incredibly rude,” “snotty,” and was even called an “epic PR fail.”
Brands should be aware that personal messages should not be released in the name of the company. The brand itself should address the situation rather than individual employees. Also, employees, no matter how high or low up in the corporate ladder, represent the brand. Ranting about issues on their personal social media accounts is unprofessional and potentially harmful to the organization’s image.
It can seem as if the brand is hiding from and evading the situation. This should have been dealt with in a better manner by approaching the owner of the group and settling things between them. You should generally avoid anything that can spark criticism about the way you handle things.
Misinformation and Fake News
Getting fake news from various sources is inevitable. Especially in the age of social media, a post can go viral in one just one click. Hence, we must all be responsible in sharing information online and be accountable enough to debunk rumors or fake news. Here are some examples and how to fix it with the correct information.
A popular casual dining restaurant in the United States was allegedly donating funds to a presidential candidate in 2019, upsetting most of its loyal customers. Twitter users took it up a notch by making #BoycottOliveGarden be one of the trending topics on the micro-blogging website, creating more buzz about the issue. The restaurant was quick to debunk the rumor by responding directly to several users using the same script.
We don’t know where this information came from, but it is incorrect. Our company does not donate to presidential candidates.
— Olive Garden (@olivegarden) August 26, 2019
The restaurant could have handled it differently by posting a statement addressing the rumors, preferably coming from one of the high-ranking executives of Olive Garden. Using that tactic would probably have ended the whole issue in just one post.
Some people might post fake news to spark attention (or tension). The old school troll will do whatever it takes to gain more followers or likes. They want to be famous so they might try to post irrelevant, spam, abusive, or threatening content to further their agenda.
Avoid trolls at all costs. Delete their posts and block them right away. Engaging with them is basically fanning the flames, so ignore them and don’t allow them to spread their negativity. Of course, you should always do a little digging through each case to find out the truth before deeming anyone a troll. Choosing the wrong situation to expose a troll might just backfire and make the situation worse.
Social Media Activism
A more difficult crisis to deal with are activists. You can get two types of activists, the single cause activists and the larger groups. Single cause activists aim to make changes in the community. Similar to trolls, they leave comments in Facebook groups. Depending on the situation, you can decide if you should reply to their post or ignore them entirely. But first, do some research on the person behind the comment or post.
In 2015, Pamela Anderson (a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and a former MAC spokesperson) wrote a letter to tell MAC to remove their products from the Chinese Market. China is known to test products on animals in cruel ways, which end up harming them.
The letter was released online for everyone to see, where many activists who were against animal testing made their anger known. But MAC dealt with this situation by explaining that it was required by the law in China that products must be tested on animals. China requires animal testing and MAC must comply to their laws. However, they assured everyone that they themselves are against animal testing.
The larger groups of activists can be a bigger threat to your brand. They come prepared and have everything planned out, making it hard to defend against them (but not impossible). So, the best way to overcome them is to talk to them “offline” to find out what your brand can do to help their cause or at least appease them. There may be a reason why they’re targeting you in the first place, so it’s best to be socially responsible.
A popular brand well-known in the Philippines called NutriAsia, had an alarming issue in 2018. Probationary employees rallied and spoke up about how they were being mistreated (underpaid and forced to work extra hours). However, when they asked to become regularized employees, they were refused.
As the issue spread on social media, activists tried slamming NutriAsia. One of the groups, Karapatan, released a statement saying: “The workers’ assertion and strike is just. We call on everyone to stand in solidarity with the workers of NutriAsia and demand accountability from the company and the PNP who instigated the entire ordeal. We also call for the immediate release of the 19 arrested individuals. We likewise challenge the Duterte regime to follow through on its pronouncements and end contractualization in all of its forms.”
In this example, we can see that activists fought for what they believed in. They tried to help employees in any way that they could. Even netizens got involved and tried to encourage as many people as they could to boycott the products of NutriAsia.
A situation like this is extremely difficult to deal with. You will have to be careful with the statements you choose to release and what actions you take next. Understand that your brand is under the microscope at this point and every statement you release to the public will be under heavy scrutiny.
The wisest way to deal with a social crisis is to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. In order to reposition your brand, you might have to run a few human resource PR campaigns that promote employee goodwill within the company.
Handling Celebrities and Influencers
Journalists, celebrities, experts, and social media influencers are people your brand should watch out for. They can be similar to activists in a way that they will fight for a specific cause, but in this case, they bring their fans/followers with them.
You must respond to them when addressed. Not replying will almost certainly make things worse because they have a large sphere of influence in the digital world. So, you should be open to discussions and engage with influencers with an open mind. Make sure you don’t try to control them or tell them what to do. Instead, allow them to voice their opinion to understand where they’re coming from. Being honest and transparent may tilt the tides in your favor, turning a crisis into a potential opportunity.
Cosmopolitan Magazine Philippines
We all know how much celebrities have a great influence over large groups of people. A lot of fans lookup to them, copy them, and support whatever they do. Imagine if they were to say negative things about another brand. It could instantly affect your brand reputation.
For example, back in March 2018, Riverdale stars Lili Reinhard and Camila Mendes called out Cosmopolitan Philippines for photoshopping their photos. They reposted the original and the photoshopped photos on their Instagram stories showing how Cosmopolitan made it look like their waists were thinner. The two actresses expressed how they worked hard to “feel confident and comfortable” in their own bodies. So, they were disappointed that their bodies were “distorted” in the final image.
This example shows how the two actresses could relate more to the audience than the brand. The issue is sensitive to many women out there. So, influencers pointing out how the magazine photoshops and makes cover girls look skinnier than they are makes the audience open their eyes. It makes them aware that magazines photoshop and show “fake” images of female bodies rather than showing the truth. This was effectively a great endorsement gone wrong.
Influencers can be a big help to brands. Not only do you need to build the relationship with your audience but also with the right influencers because you can always help each other out. So, nurture them to make sure they are on your side if you want to effectively mitigate a PR crisis.
Dealing with Crisis
When you build a team, keep in mind that everyone should be aware of how to deal with the crisis. For the most part, reacting immediately to negative comments or reviews will probably make things worse. The main goal is to build and maintain a healthy relationship with your customers, so they continue to trust your brand.
Not only should you be aware of your audience, but also of influencers and activists. Your content shouldn’t offend or hurt anyone, so make sure you filter what you post and be more sensitive to others.
Take note of each crisis scenario and prepare carefully, making sure everyone in the team is on the same page. Work together and create guidelines to make sure everything runs smoothly. You should also set rules on how you communicate with your customers, which can include tone and templated responses. You will also need to discuss which channel you will use to respond, whether it is replying publicly in the comment box or messaging them directly.
Be prepared to mitigate any future crises by following these tips. With the right plan in place, you’ll be able to turn negative PR situations into huge growth and positioning opportunities for your brand!