Crisis Management in the Digital Era: Leveraging Online Influencers as Social Advocates

Crisis Management

The infamous worms-in-Cadbury Dairy Milk crisis created uproar in October 2003. Cadbury had nearly a month before the crisis snowballed out of proportion. In comparison, how many minutes do you think the concerned public relations teams had to strategize and respond during the Maggi MSG crisis or the KFC fried rat crisis?

Not only has the nature of brand crisis evolved with the evolution of media, their frequencies have also amplified. Brand crisis is no more something that happened to particularly unfortunate brands – every brand realised they were vulnerable. An example closer to home was Indian users downrating Snapdeal en masse, because Evan Spiegel said something degrading about India. Let it be known that Spiegel is the CEO of SnapCHAT and not SnapDEAL. Doubt the PR team at Snapdeal saw THAT one coming.

Andy Gilman, now famous as the Tylenol Man said, “The secret of crisis management isn’t good vs bad. It is preventing the bad from getting worse.”

 However, HOW do you prevent the “bad” from getting worse in a digital intensive environment?

Traditionally, Brand Crisis Management requires a great mix of PR Response + Social Listening + Damage Assessment + Long Term Damage Control.

Since the definition of bad has drastically changed with extensive data consumption, the traditional approach to prevent it from getting worse needs to be rethought.

Now, Crisis Management needs to become PR Response + Social Listening + Damage Assessment + Engaging with Consumers + Humanizing the Brand + Establishing Transparency + Long Term Damage Control.

As a brand, you cannot hope to bounce back with a one-dimensional approach to crisis management. There is a need to tackle the issue from all ends, sealing all potential loopholes.The PR teams usually handle official and media communication with caution; digital teams take care of the outrage on social media. However, the mechanism has a little or no customization or humanization. Brands can no longer afford to be talking from behind the curtains in the wake of a crisis.

Crisis Management 2.0

Back in 2003-04 when Cadbury was battling the worms’ crisis, they got a new soldier to join their army. Someone who could reinstate the faith of the masses in the brand, someone the jilted Cadbury consumers could trust! That face was Amitabh Bachchan. He became an influencer on behalf of Cadbury to the masses who followed the brand.

It is exactly what brands need to do in this age, too – with a heavy focus on social media, through the discovery and deployment of social media influencers.

Social media influencers are individuals with a large social following and personal values and hobbies that resonate with certain niches. These social media influencers have no ulterior motives to favour brands, who are in turn assuring consumers that the crisis was an accident and is being taken care of.

To give you a quick understanding of how this works – when McDonald’s India announced the launch of their Masala Dosa Brioche, the brand attracted instant backlash for ruining India’s favourite breakfast dish. Yes, this was even before the product was actually launched.

McDonald’s India was in a full blown crisis, with millions invested in the marketing of their new product that potentially no one wants to try. The brand was in a fix. As a solution, the brand looped in the top food influencers of the country, invited them to review their latest addition and voila! Most reviews turned out to be positive. The online sentiment began to change with the reviews and product was soon launched and was one of most selling items on McDonald’s breakfast menu for quite some time.

An Army of Social Media Influencers

At the time of crisis, influencers help in keeping the brand communications humane. They become a source of news as well as a trustworthy communicator between the brand and their audience. Influencers spread the word in multiple ways, through stories and visuals,  and assure people of the brand’s integrity. The tricky part is that all of this has to be done in a matter of hours or lesser, because conversations on social media take very less time to explode like wildfire and turn viral. You could begin with a few pre-emptive measures.

Start with building a list of influencers and adding them to the existing crisis management machinery. A data-backed approach, spotting or curating influencers is best done through tools.For instance, Scout, a popular influencer discovery and outreach based offering from Qoruz offers database of more than 6 million influencers along with comprehensive details of their digital footprint – including following, reach, audience demographics, topic-wise expertise and more.  Scout offers highly customizable search options that can help marketers in finding influencers who fit in with your brand or the topic/cause that needs to be addressed.

A food brand in crisis could very well reach out to ‘Food & Drink’ bloggers for positive reviews.

Once influencers are at the task, it is super important to track all conversations happening about your brand across all platforms. Tools such as Radar – a keyword based tracker from Qoruz – enable users to track these conversations by the brand, influencers, or any other social media user under one dashboard, making agile CRM and ORM during a crisis achievable.

During the process, make sure to track earned media generated by the brand, because this is where you can spot brand loyalists and can convert them into future influencers and ambassadors. Use Qoruz to set up a keyword-based tracker that tracks real time sentiment, conversation, concern points and more for your brand. These should be included in the next phase of the plan and make the process adaptable and real.

Radar’s dynamic algorithm helps identify influencers, and further classifies them into advocates and adversaries.

With influencers on board, you have now more channels of communications and neutral ambassadors who will vouch for the brand. Nonetheless, before putting the plan in action, keep a few things in mind:

  1. Don’t let corporate strategy or tone influence your influencers’ tone and perception during a crisis. It is critical that the influencers communicate the message in their signature style, to keep conversation with the consumers trustworthy and real.
  2. Keep your influencers in the loop. Give them a rundown of what happened and what are you planning. Be as transparent as you can. Gain the influencer’s trust and they will in turn gain the consumers’ trust!
  3. Keep the influencers involved at all stages. Long term damage control is a lengthy process. With influencers communicating the progress to the users at every stage, the latter have assurance that the brand is seeing through the problem all the way.

Find the right names and faces to work with your brand, and have an army ready in case a crisis happens to hit you. With the right team executing mitigation strategies en masse, there won’t be a brand crisis that can ever take you down.

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