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The past year has been filled with social media blunders and UK brands have been at the top of list for some of the worst ones.
Remember the self-created crisis from British Gas? On the day the brand announced a price hike, it ran a twitter chat under the hashtag #AskBG. As a result, the brand received a torrent of abuse. Asda was heavily criticised for selling a “mental patient” costume, which caused Twitter outrage. People were horrified that the supermarket chain could sell a gruesome Halloween costume with a wholly inappropriate name.
2014 will undoubtedly create a new naughty list of brands that create their own crises; brands that will respond to the public inappropriately and suffer a meltdown while the prying eyes of the online media watch.
To make sure your brand doesn’t make the naughty list, here are six ways to avoid it:
1. Prevention is better than cure
Preventing a crisis might sound like an impossible task, but you can do it in some simple key steps.
Check your product or service extensively before it even goes to market. If you’re a retailer, your product has to be double, triple, quadruple checked before it hits the virtual or physical shelves. Most retailers have an innate understanding of consumer testing and have processes in place to ensure products are safe and viable to market. Marketers that cut corners in testing processes, or fail to consider how its product will be received are exposing the brand to consumer criticism and are at the hands of social networks. And there’s little mercy.
2. Know your risk factors
Risks exist for every business and there are skeletons in every closet. Knowing what these risks are and mitigating their exposure is an excellent way to prevent a crisis. Create your own list of risks and categorise them in order of severity. (Everyone loves a good spreadsheet so I wholeheartedly recommend doing this in Excel).
Identify what you could do as a business to mitigate those risks, and if you can’t, you’ll have a detailed understanding of what they are so that everyone is aware of potential risks. Say, for example, you have a product that has a particularly, and perhaps questionably, high margin compared to competitors. Can you justify that margin in other ways perhaps? Through excellent customer service or value added support you can justify that potential area of criticism to consumers.
3. Own your social networks
Too many brands have been the victim of social firestorms because they don’t have ownership or rules of ownership for its staff.
Major stakeholders in the business should have parent access to social media accounts. If your community manager is the only one who holds the keys, you need to make copies and know how to revoke access if they leave the business.
Ensure that staff who have access to your social accounts access it either through the native application or implement a separate publishing platform for the brand’s accounts. This avoids a situation where the community manager posts what they’re up to at the weekend on your social account, by accidentally tweeting on the brand account.
Be strict with your agency too – you should have parent control over the account and allow your agency access. This means you can revoke access at any time (if you so wish) but more importantly, means that you can see what’s going on too.
4. Be prepared
A social media crisis can take you unawares, so it’s important to know what you might say and who might say it. While you can’t predict every eventuality, it’s good to have a tone of voice established and a team of people ready to respond in a crisis. Unfortunately, the standard apology press releases of old, are just that, a bit outdated. You need to be able to respond in a considered way but as quickly as possible, so establish a team who will be responsible for that.
5. Know what’s going on
Lots of brands only find out about a crisis right in the eye of the storm. To avoid this, make sure you’re tracking your brand, for free, using Google Alerts. These allow you to monitor what’s being said about your brand on the websites that Google can crawl.
To get a better view of what’s being said in real time on Twitter and other social networks, free and paid social monitoring tools such as Topsy (free), Social Mention (free), Brandwatch (paid) and Radian 6 (paid) that gives you real time insight into everything that’s being said about your brand, with alerts too. If a crisis kicked off at 3am and you were a really diligent, dedicated, or frankly, nuts, brand manager, you could set up an alert to prompt your smartphone alarm to go off.
6. Respond quickly
A crisis doesn’t have to be a crisis. If someone kicks off about your brand on social media, it genuinely doesn’t have to be the end of the world. People complain, they don’t like poor service, poor products, a bad experience, even when your brand prides itself on excellence in all of those camps. It’s really rare (perhaps unheard of) for a brand to never experience a complaint.
Consumers are savvy now, so ignoring them just isn’t going to work. Responding to each social complaint with a personal response, publicly (not a copied and pasted one, please never copy and paste!) is the best way to handle this. If you identify the complaint or potential escalation of that complaint, try to take it offline. The first port of call is to ask for a phone number in a private message so that you can call, compensate accordingly, and resolve the matter. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an excellent customer database as your second port of call, which you can cross reference against the name of the person complaining and give them a call. If all else fails and you can’t get in touch, be human and issue a public apology or response on the appropriate platform.
Ultimately, it is your call to determine whether responding publicly, with a statement is the right thing to do. But you should always respond on the platform you received the feedback, complaint or potential crisis.
If you do fall victim to a social crisis, remember that the very best responses to social crises in 2013 were human, demonstrating that brands aren’t infallible – they make mistakes but they fix them with humility.
Check out the very best example of 2013 from Bodyform for the most marvellous response to a direct critique of an established brand. If you can be human (okay, perhaps not quite as cheeky as Bodyform, given that they had some artistic license because the crisis was tongue-in-cheek to start with), you demonstrate to your customer that you may be a company but you have people that run that company, who make mistakes, just like everyone else.
My start in the industry came during the heyday of direct marketing: data was king and the data planner the key to unlocking the riches that the target consumer held. Stereotypically, a 28 to 35 year old housewife who regularly read the Daily Mail, enjoyed travel, eating out and cinema, had two or more credit cards and a direct debit to an animal charity, lived in a semi-detached house and had two cars parked on the drive.
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