A local business chamber recently asked me to speak on crisis communications. As we bounced around ideas, it soon became apparent that social media was conspicuously absent from the conversation. So I decided to write a guide to navigating the traditional, digital, and everything-in-between worlds.
I began with the PR basics. Bad stuff happens, and it always boils down to the fundamental need to balance what's right for the business with how it will impact stakeholder psychology.
Earlier this year, KFC had anticipated releasing a series of coupons for some great deals in Mainland China. As one might expect, the coupons soon became available to download from sources other than official channels. It quickly became a mess. Though a statement was issued online about 'fake' coupons, thousands of people appeared at the stores wanting great deals on some delicious chicken. And when they didn't get it, they weren't happy. KFC clearly underestimated the power and speed of word-of-mouth (WOM) via social media, and was unprepared to leverage social media to manage these troubles when they arose.
When faced with a crisis today, you have to consider social media as importantly as any other stakeholder group. Why? Firstly, 90 per cent of consumers consider WOM the most trusted source of information. The two best WOM sources are the people you talk to and social media.
Secondly, the most important element in WOM marketing is the power of the customer experience; the experience your customer walks away with is much more important than any advertising message. And that's not just for fried chicken deals, it includes news and updates about a crisis.
So, how does one integrate social media into a crisis plan? You can begin by waking management up to the obvious. Social media's impact is equivalent to what CNN did to the six o'clock news 30 years ago when it changed the news cycle overnight. And, today, two of the most challenging stakeholders during a crisis, media and NGOs, use social media better than anyone.
Corporates simply need to catch up. While they can use social media to sell plenty of widgets, they shy away from using it to respond to a crisis. To pull social media into a crisis response strategy, I recommended the following steps:
Evaluate the social media tools. Conduct advance research to determine which social tools are used by your stakeholders. Map out the universe of touch points that matter to supporters and detractors.
Go beyond Facebook and Youtube. There are thousands of social media platforms that have special-interest readers who tend to be the most vocal and set the tone of a conversation during a crisis.
Assess your social media footprint. Determine where you sit in the space. One of my favourites is Korean Air who is not only on Facebook and Twitter (and their Chinese and Korean counterparts), but operate mobile applications, email updates and photo sharing. While this is comprehensive, effective marketing, it's also an excellent platform to communicate during a crisis because it already exists and stakeholders are already using them.
Monitor search engines. Remember, different search engines yield different results. For instance, Baidu gives you a Mainland Chinese angle, Google gives you global views, and Yahoo-Hong Kong gives you a Cantonese perspective. That's just three of thousands. Then adjust your message.
Measure the dialogue. Determine what and how much is being said about you and where. There are a variety of measurement services for social media. What's best is a matter of debate, especially when you're dealing with multiple languages. Do your homework and then test them out.
Educate staff on social media. At a bare minimum, they need to fully understand internal company protocol on social media usage. Strive to have at least one social media guru, someone who lives and breathes this stuff. And don't be scared if they're 25 years old! Only when your staff gain an understanding of social media will they respect its impact during a crisis.
When you do respond, make it authentic and personal. Social media is not for canned speeches. It needs to be real conversation. While an American CEO like Jetblue's David Neeleman comes across as a likeable guy (who even meets personally with bloggers), you don't see too many Asian executives doing the same.
Don't give up! Social media is a tough one. It changes by the moment and it can be brutal. But as quickly as it can take you down, if you handle it well, it can lift you back up.
To prove my final point, take Domino's Pizza. Get on YouTube to view the disgusting employee video and scroll down to view the CEO's apology. Then check out pizzaturnaround.com. View it in that order and you won't need me to explain why this is one of the greatest turnarounds of all time. I look forward to the day when Asia-Pacific communicators show the same level of sophistication.
This article was originally published in the 26 August 2010 supplement PR Communicated.