Hate. Sucks. *&%all. Bullshit. Words that could turn a press article into a vehement case of defamation are bandied about with no repercussions whatsoever in the social media sphere. In this ‘free’ world where consumer rights organizations rightfully fight to be heard, don’t brands need a new and better ‘voice’ as well?
The Generalization Trap
When it comes to online users with fickle brand loyalties, one person’s ire quickly turns to a massive public outrage. Thus when one Cafe Coffee Day manager made an unfortunate mistake at one branch in Chennai, every branch of the brand across the nation was besmeared with tweets by the dozen. So, the first rule for crisis management on social media is to NOT fall into the generalization trap.
CCD’s response to the #CCDSUCKS crisis went like this:
- “Thanks for letting us know and we’re sorry”
- “We apologize for the goof up. This will not be taken lightly.”
- “Give us a number to call. When resolved, we’ll tell everyone about it on Twitter. Publicly.”
- Consumer response: “Why do you need a number to talk? Use Twitter!”
However eventually, the tide did turn. Brand loyalists quickly took notice that the whole conflagration was built upon one isolated incident and began to defend the brand nearly as vehemently as the ones with a bone to pick. Supportive tweets were something like this:
• Opposite to what others think about @CafeCoffeeDay I love them
• I think we need to give CCD another chance.
• Give them a chance instead of beating them down further.
And thus, CCD’s genuine response saved the day. The incident has several valuable lessons for all Indian brands. Isolated incidents are not to be taken lightly because the general public loves to generalize. Also, drawing attention to the fact that it’s a one-off incident might help. Here, the fans did it for CCD but the brand themselves could have pointed it out too.
We live in an instant world – instant frustration instantly updated on Twitter, instant happiness captured instantly in an instant photo and an instant mistake instantly exploding into a controversy of gigantic proportions. Even though Airtel responded to consumer’s outrage over network outage in Mumbai last December quite speedily, their real life response wasn’t quick enough and the mounting frustration found an outlet in the form of countless tweets and comments.
Then there was the time when Blackberry servers reported failure worldwide in October last year. The mobile giant’s response came a full two days later leaving consumers in the dark and free to tear Blackberry’s reputation to shreds using social media. Add to this media reports of a possible buyout of Research in Motion, the parent company of Blackberry and cyberspace went berserk. Imagine, if social media had grown to this extent during Cadbury’s worm crisis in 2003 or Coca Cola’s pesticide controversy.
Steps to Deal
Crisis management usually happens in three stages – the monitoring before the incident which has to be in place constantly, the response during and the response after. The lessons that emerge from the social media crises so far are as follows:1. Don’t wait till the crisis has gone out of proportion. The quicker you take notice of the fact that there’s a problem, the better. A response after two negative tweets is so much more useful than a response after two hundred tweets. In order to do this, you will have to ensure that all communication about your brand is being monitored constantly.
2. Respond to what has been said. You may know the problem better but your customers have experienced the consequences. So it makes sense to personally respond to the issues they have been facing. That can be far more placating than a generalised statement promising a quick resumption of services.
3. Counter Twitter with Twitter. Addressing a hashing trend of Twitter with a full page advertisement in a newspaper would be a total misdirection of efforts and resources. What you want is to speak to your target audience directly. So if your audience is on YouTube, post a video as your response.
4. Use power names. CEOs, brand ambassadors – this is the time when they need to come out and leverage their charm and trust factor to stem the damage.
5. Turn the tide. Create something that’s even more interesting than the original controversy and attracts double the amount of viewership. It could be a video or a powerfully worded post. This way you’re actually turning the crisis into an opportunity.
Crisis management thus requires close scrutiny and both timely and continual efforts. After all, apologising was never easy, was it?