Social Media as a communication tool, client service forum or a sales lead generator are the most common business applications we currently see. However, using social media and emerging technologies related to social networks will soon revolutionize how organizations deal with crisis.
Last year a video surfaced of a FedEx employee carelessly throwing a computer monitor (obviously marked fragile) over a fence.
Due to the viral nature of social media this video was passed around by millions of people (a year later it is at 8.8 million views) and Fedex was left to deal with the aftermath. Traditional crisis communication theory was to create a press release, tell your customers that this is not the normal behaviour of your employees and then acknowledge that the company will reprimand the employee. Once the release goes out the company can feel that is as covered all the bases. However, in the new world of social media this is not enough. Fedex realized the immediacy of the situation and connected with the customer to resolve their issue, but they went further and released their own video from the Senior Vice President of Operations who personally added how shocked he was and reassured customers that this would not happen again. This was the first high profile case of a brand coming out with a personalized crisis management tactic that matched the same platform that the crisis was originated. By releasing a Youtube video to respond to the original viral Youtube video they showed an understanding of social media that enabled them to conquer this crisis quickly.
As we move further into integrating social media into our business practices social media will no longer be an addition to organizational crisis communication plans. Social media plans will need to be created as separate stand alone documents to address the changing needs of the digital marketplace. The case study of KitchenAid is a great example of how crisis management has changed and will continue to evolve. During the debates for the recent US election the KitchedAid account posted the following tweet;
Obviously it was a KitchenAid representative who had mistakenly posted to the company account rather than their personal account but due to the content it outraged many. 5 years ago this type of problem would have been inconceivable because the technology didn’t exist. Now it is a risk that brands need to mitigate and consider at all times. Moving forward companies will have to determine what their course of action will be in similar situations, provide extra levels of training for all those involved in social media communication and create new issue management plans for digital marketers.
The future of social media will mean new types of problems (KitchenAid) but also mean new creative ways to solve these problems (FedEx).
Lessons for Others
1. Brands will need to understand all platforms of social media in order to respond to their communities efficiently.
2. As new platforms develop, crisis management planning must develop at the same rate. Planning is necessary to ensure that gaps do not exist.
3. As social media grows it is being taken more seriously as a vital crisis communication platform by senior leaders. More brands are using Facebook pages and Twitter feeds as their main communication tool during crisis as a reliable source for information and this will continue to grow. It will also become more common to see social media added to crisis communication plans as a primary tool in the future.
Submitted by : Aaron Miller, SMBP Student University of Waterloo
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