Have you heard about the six degrees of separation theory by Frigyes Karinthy? It assumes that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else in the world by a chain of no more than six acquaintances. It’s been supported with many experiments, researches, and analyses. However, lots of things have changed since the early conceptions.Nowadays, I assume, that distance has shrunk. Out of the 7.3-billion world population 44% have Internet access. Everyone, except for some remote islands or areas in the middle of nowhere, is connected to the web. Thus, if you want to reach out to a famous celebrity it will be much easier and probably involve less people than the carefully calculated six.
Dark Side Of Social Media
I know that connecting with your favorite idol directly sounds tantalizing, but there is also an opposite side of the coin. The Internet cut distances between people from different nations, backgrounds, of distinct social status, and distinct level of popularity. It’s easier for brands to generate leads, reach out to customers and other companies. However, the Internet might be also a source of big trouble.
I will not expand upon the subject of online security that is put into danger every time we share information on the Internet. I want to talk about threats that concern intangible brand assets like reputation which can be ruined on social media within seconds.
Negative World We Live In
Negative information spreads much faster than positive. If you need a proof just watch the news and calculate the good-to-bad-information ratio. Chances are most pieces of news concern wars, socioeconomic problems, or natural disasters, It’s the same with social media!
What’s more, people feel a social responsibility to warn other users about company wrongdoings and so they share such information across the Internet. Therefore, negative opinions and complaints from unsatisfied clients have a higher tendency to spread virally. One small, seemingly harmless comment can escalate into a huge brand reputation crisis.
Nestlé, and more precisely baby food produced by this brand, struggled with a serious problem a few years ago that came out of a rumor that was posted on Facebook by a Polish citizen living in the UK, saying that their products may contain pieces of glass. Four days later, another Polish user, this time in Norway, shared this post. Two and a half weeks later information moved to Poland as well, causing a serious reputation crisis for the brand.
Within a few days, social media users posted more than 22 thousand comments about this, reaching approximately 3.5 million users. Maybe if Nestlé had discovered the very first mention with their baby food, they might have nipped the problem in the bud, preventing a crisis escalation.
Brand As Hijacking Victim
Have your ever thought that someone can steal your brand’s identity online? And I am not saying about hacking your social media account, even though that may also happen. However, you should be aware that anyone can pose as a customer service rep in your company.
Brandjacking is an activity whereby someone acquires the online identity of another entity. Users sometimes do that just for fun, in order to purposely harm brand reputation, or to acquire that brand’s equity. If you detect such a profile soon enough, you can easily report it and explain to your audience you have nothing to do with that fake account. If not, your clients and prospects may form a bad opinion about your brand and it can be difficult to refute it.
What's more, brands are not the only "thing" that can be hijacked. Certain campaigns or hashtags can be highjacked as well. NYPD learned that the hard way. The police department wanted to highlight their relationship with the public, so they ran a Twitter campaign encouraging users to share their photos with #myNYPD hashtag.
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) April 22, 2014
Great idea to improve image on social media, isn’t it? Not so much. They did not foresee that people would be more willing to share their negative experiences with police officers rather than pleasant moments. The hashtag was hijacked and shared in tweets that painted NYPD in a bad light. It definitely did not warm up relations with social media users.
— VICE (@VICE) April 22, 2014
Handling A Crisis
You’d probably prefer to be clear of of any crisis situations, but unfortunately they may hit every brand. Even if you have a professional online reputation management system that monitors threats and potential sources of problems, you can always experience negative social outrage against your company. Therefore, you should also be prepared to handle a crisis that has already started.
Firstly, don't panic when there is a problem on the horizon. Stay calm and develop a strategy that will help you get out of it. Every crisis has its origin and you should start there. If it came out of negative opinion from an unsatisfied client, apologize and offer some kind of compensation. Naturally, bigger issues than one complaining customer might appear. However, the scheme stays always the same. You should find the origin, first. Then fix it in the source. If it is needed you should also give an official statement explaining what and why happened and how you are going to fix it.
Then, it is time you came up with solution to rebuild your reputation, if it was given a bad name. Remember that you should always stay consistent with values your brand has to offer. Don’t make snap decisions, because that may affect the outcome. Think twice before you take a step!
Turn A Crisis Into A Social Media Win
Not so long ago Target fell victim to brandjacking. After a wave of nasty comments about the company’s move toward gender-neutral labeling of children's products in its stores a Facebook user wanted to prank the brand. He set up a fake Fanpage “Ask ForHelp”, posing as a customer service rep and replied to all these comments in a very unpleasant or even offensive manner.
Target did not notice the problem straightaway, so the prickly Facebook troll continued writing snarky comments for a few hours. After a while the company reported it, the account was taken down and they issued an official statement on social media. However, what they did later let them win their audience back and gain a bunch of new followers.
Target posted a photo of retro troll dolls to its Facebook page together with a comment:
Prevention Is Better Than A Cure
You need to know how to fight a crisis that has already developed. However, prevention is always better than a cure. Therefore, your company should prepare an online reputation management system. Depending on the industry and your brand character, it might differ. There are a few core rules, though, that you should follow to avoid crisis situations on the Internet:
- Track social media mentions about your brand. Stay up-to-date with what’s being said about your brand. Social media became a channel for making complaints about bad customer service and you cannot ignore such comments. Use social listening tools to collect opinions, both negative and positive ones, and reply to them as soon as you discover them.
- Always be consistent on social media. Many crisis situations result from companies’ incoherent online image. When a brand says one thing and behaves in a different way, it will definitely be perceived badly. Set a good example to your community and other brands, and people will stay loyal to you.
- Engage your audience on the emotional level. It is no longer easy to keep your clients loyal. They switch between brands because they are not relevant to them. In fact, most consumers wouldn’t care if 73% of brands disappeared for good. They would just simply turn to a different brand. If you don’t want to end up in the 73-percent group, offer real value to your customers. They need to feel emotional attachment to stay loyal. When you create such a bond with your audience, they will trust you and support you in case of any crisis.
- Cooperate with influencers. There is no better way to convince people a product or brand value than recommendation from a trusted person. Nowadays, consumers put more trust in bloggers, vloggers, and other opinion leaders. If you win influencers’ hearts, you’ll get the key to wider audience.
The social media landscape is constantly evolving. Consumers of today are significantly different than those from the 80s, 90s, or 00s. Digital technology shortens distances between customers and brands. Leverage this trend and don’t let any crisis situation to destroy your brand reputation. Because once it’s harmed, it comes difficult and costly to rebuild it.
How do you manage social media crises? Write in comment the comments below!
About the Author: Natalia Chrzanowska is a Content Manager at Brand24 and an author in their corporate blog. She’s passionate about social media and digital marketing. She loves turning brand’s activity into stories. Personally she’s a budding traveler and amateur photographer. Tweet her at @ishoottheworld.