Friend or foe? Make social media your reputation’s ally

People using social media

Social media platforms have provided a wealth of benefits for brands and their communications: from increasing awareness and building communities, to removing the gatekeeper and speaking directly to audiences whenever and wherever they are.

Along with these benefits, there is risk that comes with increased access and immediacy – which has seen many brand reputations tumble.

Gone are the days when companies can assess the fallout of an issue and prepare a media release for publication in the next day’s print run.

With a 24/7 digital news cycle, how can brands reap the benefits of social media platforms to their advantage when an incident arises?

Making social media your friend in a crisis involves being agile and human.

Details of a new Xbox console, the Series S, were leaked on social media and spread like wildfire online across social channels and blogs. Within 2.5 hours of the leak, Xbox posted to Twitter with a meme suggesting the leak was real, followed by an official promotional image, price and name of the console.

Xbox leak meme

While some Twitter users claim the leak was a set-up, there are lessons that can be taken from Xbox’s ability to post content in a crisis situation that still appeals to its audience base, with what would require a very quick approval process internally.

The 2019 Crisis Impact Report by social media safety provider, Crisp, found that more than half of consumers expect brands to respond to a crisis within an hour – and if that response is effective, a brand can keep their reputation intact. The report states 90 per cent of consumers say they are likely to shop with a brand that responds well.

Understanding and adapting to the sentiment of your online community is often referred to as social listening and plays an important role in any crisis response.

Jacinda Ardern has been named the Facebook Prime Minister for her ability to calmly and authentically speak to New Zealanders directly on social platforms, particularly during times of trouble.

When the nation faced a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in August this year, Ardern posted an at-home, Facebook livestream watched by 34 per cent of her 1.3 million followers. During the 13-minute video, she said she had taken a scan of social media comments to understand what people want updates on, and took the opportunity to respond to live questions.

Jacinta Arden Facebook livestream image

The principle of following up your crisis response with real action applies to digital mediums in the same way as traditional communications.

In the cases of Twitter backlash towards Sephora for racial profiling and Gucci for its balaclava knit sweater, the brands released swift apologies, and importantly followed up later with social media posts announcing plans to run diversity training and establish an advisory panel respectively.

Brands must respect social media as a powerful communication channel, or risk making it their enemy.

Case in point was a poorly thought-out hashtag campaign by Lockheed Martin, a US-based advanced technologies manufacturer, as well as the world’s largest weapons producer and America’s defence contractor.

Lockheed Martin attempted to capitalise on #WorldPhotoDay by asking its followers to share “an amazing photo of one of our products” in 2018. Hoping the campaign would promote its technologies, it backfired when Twitter users responded with bloody scenes from Yemen reportedly caused by the company’s weapons products.

In response, Lockheed Martin deleted its initial tweet, but the images posted by anti-war activists remain.

Deleting a post or comment is rarely the way to mitigate reputational damage.

Consumers and stakeholders expect to be engaged and informed by brands on social media and, in a crisis, these expectations are intensified. All eyes revert to the news feed where online communities demand an instant response and frequent updates.

Here are 10 key takeaways for managing social media in a crisis:

  1. Don’t hide/delete comments

  2. Pause all scheduled posts and digital marketing activities

  3. Acknowledge; don’t argue

  4. Roll out your crisis communications plan including your social communications plan

  5. Move the conversation out of the public domain and into private messages

  6. Ensure overarching key messages are implemented

  7. Don’t wait for someone to address the crisis, be proactive and get your message out

  8. Use social media in conjunction with other owned and earned channels

  9. Be personable – social media shouldn’t be treated as a mass media tool

  10. Be present.

– Article written by Amanda Cirillo, Senior Account Manager.

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