How social brands can manage an online PR crisis

Reading Time: 2 minutes Brands with an online/social presence need to refresh their traditional PR crisis management strategies to include socially enabled customers. Here’s some ideas how socialised brands can structure their online communications during a crisis.

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Did you follow the media coverage about Sony and Amazon’s cloud security issues and the Qantaslabour dispute?   What I found interesting about the coverage was the amount of focus given on the respective brand’s online response. In the cases listed above, the brand’s process was considered newsworthy.  In the era of the social consumer, effective online communication is an important element of good customer service.Brands with an online/social presence need to refresh their traditional PR crisis management strategies to include socially enabled customers.  Here’s some ideas how socialised brands can structure their online communications during a crisis.

Set up real-time monitoring
Real time monitoring will allow you to assess the intensity of a crisis.  Take a look at the amount of activity (tweets, comments, views etc) and sentiment.  Assess if the level of activity is growing, flatlining or decreasing.   This information is invaluable when working out what to do next.Begin to categorise the types of comments/inquires being directed to your brand.  Are they ‘institutional based inquiries’ where one response supports the many?  Or are they ‘individual based inquiries’ where each response needs to be tailored to the customer’s specific circumstances?If inquires are institutional there may be a lack of publicly available information and you may want to consider broadcasting a response.  If inquires are individual based, do you have sufficient online resources to reach out to customers that need support?

Know your online audience and get your tone right
Typically in a crisis a set of key messages are used by the spokesperson(s) to communicate the corporate response/position.  These messages are drafted for the media and are usually corporate/formal.Sometimes corporations will copy and paste their media messaging for use in their online channels.  This makes sense because in a crisis your corporate messaging needs to be consistent.But this is where corporations get themselves into trouble as the majority of a brand’s online audience will be customers.  Messaging drafted for the media will likely frustrate a customer based audience.  It makes the brand  appear out of touch with the real customer experience of loss and inconvenience.

Be empathic and support your customers
When information is hard to come by or if the comms strategy is to communicate only when you have something to communicate, your online stakeholders could be left wanting. A happy medium could exist if a brand adopts an emphatic based outreach strategy.

While your online team may not be able to solve the problem, at the very least they can assure customers their concerns are being heard and when they know more information that they will pass it along as soon as possible.Another opportunity is to share insightful and relevant information.  Think about the customer experience.  What insights could the online team share that helps customers feel they have a greater sense of control or certainty about the expected fix?
If you’re interested in reading more on the topic, check out my presentation at iStrategy Melbourne 2011 titled ‘How to communicate bad news online’.
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