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In our last post, we talked about the need for companies to start thinking beyond social marketing. The reasons are simple:

1. If all your business does on social channels is market itself, anyone who isn’t already an ardent fan will eventually tune you out.

2. Social marketing is not social business. If you want to truly establish social business practices (and there are clear business advantages to doing it), you are going to have to incorporate social media into critical, non-marketing functions outside of marketing. (Say customer support, business development, community management, HR, etc.)

Last time, we focused on customer support. Today, let’s take a look at crisis management.

The first piece of knowledge we want to put on the table is that PR crises today are not like the PR crises of yesteryear. Because of social channels, they now snowball at an exponential rate. Whatever the cause may be (an insensitive tweet fired off by your digital agency, photos of your CEO hunting elephant, one of your drilling rigs blowing up off the coast of Florida or your airline breaking guitars), the mechanics of the crisis management game have changed. Without a digital crisis management action plan, you’re dead in the water. Worse, without a digital monitoring practice, you’ll never even know what hit you. So what do you say we take a quick look at how crisis management looks to the eyes of a company whose social business investment includes more than just marketing?

Not too long ago, @KitchenAid’s had to deal with a PR crisis of its own. We took some screen shots of what it looked like on our own dashboard. If you aren’t familiar with what happened and what the crisis was about, you can catch up here (just remember to come back).

Let’s start at the beginning:

1. Discovery

The more vigilant you are, the easier it will be to avoid major PR disasters. It really isn’t complicated. And thanks to modern digital tools, all it takes to set up an early warning system for your company is the will to do so, and a little bit of forward thinking on the part of your brand or product management team. (If you don’t want to do it internally, you can easily work with your agency of record to set something up.)

In the case of KitchenAid, the crisis was identified early. This allowed management to start working on it in that first hour, which is critical given that Mashable first reported on the incident about an hour after it happened.) Speed matters.

Tip: Since you can’t necessarily anticipate what a PR crisis will be about, it’s difficult to set up keyword searches in advance. Usually, monitoring your brand and product names will have to do. However, note the increase in volume of mentions in the above screenshot (to the right of the vertical orange line). Do you see it? It looks like a wave. Using a monitoring tool that provides some measure of data visualization can help you spot sudden changes in the volume of mentions. Such a change doesn’t have to be negative, but it is a warning that something has happened and that you need to look into it.

You may also want to see where the complaints are coming from and how they are spreading over time. One of our screens comes with a handy map you can zoom in and out of, so whether you are a global brand looking to gauge the overall impact of a PR crisis over time or a chain with retail outlets across several regions, you can pinpoint the precise location of brand mentions anywhere in the world and see exactly where your trouble spots are (center of image). You can also click on those points of mention and see exactly what was said and by whom. A menu also lets you select what channels you want to monitor on the map, so if you only want to look at Twitter and blogs, you can do that. Tickr Command Center also plots the number of mentions per channel (top right of image below) so you can get a sense for each channel’s impact on the crisis itself (and its resolution). Handy if you need to prioritize your efforts or just like to have extra points of data in hand when you deliver your report to the powers that be.

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2. Analysis

This is where it helps to have a PR professional in place who understands the mechanics, culture and language of digital crisis management, and a digital team that is capable of executing on a coordinated response. Monitoring alone can’t fix it. (Hey, we can only do so much.) Competent and well-prepared humans have to handle the response.

Tip: Your response should be quick. By quick, we don’t mean 24 hours like in the good old days. We don’t even mean 2 hours. We mean inside of 10 minutes. The quicker the response, the shorter and smaller the crisis. It pays to be vigilant and ready.

Tickr Command Center lets you drill down into particular time segments to see (live or retroactively) how conversations about your product or brand are evolving:

3. Response

How a company first responds to a crisis will set the stage for everything that comes afterwards. Here is a quick primer on how to respond to a crisis quickly and effectively:

  1. Introduce yourself. Use your name and your title.
  2. Frame the situation for the public. State the facts. What happened? When did it happen? What is your actual position in regards to the crisis? Apologize. Don’t spin. Don’t lie. Establish trust and leadership.
  3. Communicate to the public what comes next and what they should expect.
  4. Communicate to the press the response schedule and structure, and the means by which they should obtain information from you.
  5. Communicate developments and milestones with the public as they happen (the frequency will depend on the crisis). Err on the side of giving them too many updates. Make them feel that you are dedicated to fixing the problem in the most expedient and transparent way possible.

To KitchenAid’s credit, this process is precisely the one that was used by Cynthia Soledad and the company’s crisis team, and it worked. Note that the crisis abated shortly after KitchenAid’s official response. (See red line in the screen shot above.)

4. Management

There are essentially two main pieces to the management phase. The first is a continuation of the “update the public” function that began in the response phase. This can involve the creation of a crisis page and a Twitter account alongside existing communications channels. (BP did this during the Deep Sea Horizon crisis.) The second is the direct interaction between the company and the public across social platforms. That is where community management, the creation of discussion groups and tabs, the publishing of fact sheets becomes very important. In some cases, (like the posting of an offensive tweet) a quick explanation of what happened and an apology will do the job. In other instances, the problem goes far deeper than that and will require more work. (Examples: An investigation by a major news organization just uncovered that your company employs child labor in a number of countries around the world. A report from a global ecological watchdog paints your company as being a major source of air or water pollution. Your CEO has just found himself connected to a damaging corruption scandal. These sorts of things won’t just go away with an apology.)

Whether your crisis can easily handled with an apology and a few hours of work on social channels or will require months of heavy lifting and changes made to your business practices, by engaging with the public and listening to their complaints, a company can identify key topics they need to focus on. These topics will frame the conversation that the public ultimately wants to have with the company. The more focus exchanges have, the more likely it is that they can be shifted from pointless noise to purposeful signal. Here, listening with purpose will make all the difference in the world.

Once a company has identified topics and themes, it can dig deeper and identify specific complaints that relate to them. Once these complaints have been clarified, the discussion process can now be shifted from conflict to collaboration. Remember that every complaint simply identifies a problem. Once a problem is identified, all the company has to do is acknowledge it, drill down into the specific objections, and ask the public how it would solve it. In doing so, the company moved the dynamics of its relationship with an angry public from conflict to collaboration.

The next step is to rededicate your company’s focus to fixing the problem. Even if the best you can realistically offer is an incremental process that could take years, start that process. Show that the issue matters by turning the change into an initiative. Pledge to work on it. Recruit the help of the public. Partner with them. Make them part owners of the solution. Reward them for their help.

In the case of KitchenAid, the problem was far more easily solved, but it’s important to understand that while some PR crisis may only turn into a rough few days, others can cost companies everything. It’s important to have measure in place to make sure that each type of PR crisis is handled properly and that as little as possible is left to chance.

5. Post-crisis monitoring & advocacy

This part is simply the follow-through. Now that the crisis itself has ended, it’s time to button things up. What did you miss? What did you learn? What comes next?

Don’t let the deflation of the wave of mentions be your only guide. News cycles are short-lived nowadays. People will grow bored of a scandal or PR crisis after a few short days, no matter how effective a company was at addressing and managing it. But just because people have moved on to another topic doesn’t mean that your troubles are over. Don’t mistake changes in the volume of mentions for resolution. Your image may have been tarnished even if you aren’t the hot topic on Twitter anymore. That’s just as dangerous.

Note: If the root cause of the crisis was not resolved, it will stick. It will become part of the brand’s story. It may even become the defining feature of the brand for years to come – a stain on its reputation that won’t easily go away once it grows roots. You don’t want that. A crisis can’t just go away. It has to be resolved.

In the case of KitchenAid, here is what things looked like two weeks later:

The only way to find out if it has been resolved or if it has just gone away for a while is to monitor conversations about the brand once the crisis has subsided. There is a short term piece to this, and there is a long term piece as well. You want to gauge the impact of what you’ve done, and make adjustments along the way until you can be certain that the crisis, its cause, and the expectations of the public have been worked through. Once that’s done, look for people who are not aware that you have resolved the problem, and politely, kindly engage them. Show them the progress you’ve made. Link to what you have done and what you are doing. Inform, inform, inform. Whom you inform, when, how and why cannot happen in a vacuum. Monitoring for specific types of opinions and conversations can help you target the right people at the right time with the right information. This allows you to get your message across quickly and effectively without requiring major media buys and hit-or-miss campaigns. Think major cost-savings, sure, but think also of speed and effectiveness.

We hope that was helpful. So again, the point today was threefold:

1. Run you through the 5 phases of a digital crisis as seen through the eyes of a digital crisis management team that uses Tickr Command Center as one of its tools.

2. Show you yet another reason why creating social business practices (or having a “social media strategy”) should focus on a lot more than just creating and publishing social marketing content.

3. Illustrate the real value of looking at social media investment and activity beyond just social marketing.

If you aren’t using Tickr Command Center yet, check out what we can do for you here. (There’s a lot more to it than what we showed you today). Bear in mind that a tool like Command Center doesn’t need to necessarily replace other monitoring software. Most of our users tend to pair Tickr with a half dozen or more other digital management solutions in order to amplify their capabilities. Definitely try us out.

You can also come say hello on Facebook and Twitter. We won’t spam you with useless marketing content. Scout’s honor.

Cheers,

The Tickr Team.