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THE RISE OFTHE SOCIALMEDIA DRIVENISSUEA brief casebook andhow to avoid disaster
Sunday 14th April 1912 at 11.40pm RMS Titanic hits an iceberg.Sunday 21st April 1912 White Star Line‟s managing director, J. Bruce Ismay, finally issues astatement, by which time he has become the „villain‟ of the Titanic disaster, despite being cleared ofany wrongdoing by the official enquiry.100 years later, in today‟s hyper-connected global community, waiting an hour, let alone a week, torespond can be too long and social media can vastly multiply the volume of criticism as well asfeeding traditional media coverage.To add to the challenge, social media is creating public issues out of incidents that would previouslyhave been kept between organisation and individual. One negative blog post or customer tweet canquickly snowball and dispersed customers with common complaints (or indeed any complaints) canjoin forces online in real time.Plus, social media loves nothing more than reporting on a social media driven issue – particularly ifa company gets the initial response wrong - which can seriously amplify and extend thereputational damage.So what are today’s social media icebergs and how should organisationsrespond to them to avoid disaster? We’ve taken a look at some recent examplesand what we can learn from them.
VIRGIN AMERICA’S COMMUNICATIONS BREAKDOWNDate of incident: October 2011In the same month as BlackBerry‟s painful outage, VirginAmerica experienced its own service breakdown afterswitching to a new customer reservations system.Frustrated Virgin customers couldn‟t get on to the VAwebsite, whilst emails and phone calls went unanswered –not surprisingly Twitter complaints were rife as werecomplaints on the company‟s Facebook page.Unfortunately as social media channels began to buzz withunhappy customers, the VP of corporate communicationsat Virgin America claimed that customers and staff werehappy with the change and they were experiencing minimalproblems with the "smooth transition," and a companyspokesman denied any problems with the booking system.Meanwhile, customer-facing staff seemed to be cluelessabout the complaints they were getting about missingconfirmations, double-charged flights and cancellations thatcouldn‟t be made.Luckily the social media team swung into action andcustomers were soon receiving regular updates viaFacebook, Twitter and the website – they sent 12,000+Direct Messages via Twitter in the following weeks to tryand help unhappy customers.
VIRGIN AMERICA’S COMMUNICATIONS BREAKDOWNCould the iceberg have been avoided? Probably not –Virgin was expecting some issues with the switchover tothe new reservations system and had tried to prepare bynotifying flyers that their website would be experiencing anoutage. It could have better connected it‟s public responsewith the customer experience being communicated viasocial media and made sure staff were properly briefed. Disaster rating: 5/10The problems the new reservations system created lastedfor weeks in the public eye thanks to continual venting onsocial media, and the initial disconnect between what thecompany was saying and what customers were sayingmade the airline look atypically out of touch, but theyquickly took to the web to respond with empathy tocustomers who had been affected and didn‟t stop doing sountil problems were resolved and apologised in the humanway people expected of the brand.
1-800-FLOWERS FAILS TO ROMANCE CUSTOMERSDate of incident: February 2012For much of last Valentine‟s Day, 1-800-Flowers‟ Twitterfeed @1800Flowers was a stream of angry posts from menand women whose flowers had arrived dead, damaged ormost often not at all and it was a similar story on theirFacebook.Many of those complaining on Twitter complained that theyreceived no response from the company through traditionalcustomer service avenues, forcing them to complainthrough social media channels. Unbelievably the companyhad found itself in the same position last 2011.They‟d obviously done little to address the service issues inthe intervening 12 months but at least this time they usedsocial media outreach to respond directly to unhappycustomers and try to resolve their issues (although its hardto make good a missed Valentine‟s Day gift).They didn‟t use their blog or website to do the same - thecompany was still trying to flog flowers on its website withthe promise, “Stuck in the Valentines doghouse? Get outwith a WOW.” and the “smile guarantee”.
1-800-FLOWERS FAILS TO ROMANCE CUSTOMERSCould the iceberg have been avoided?Only by improving its delivery service and quality control.Although if it had made sure it‟s traditional customerservice channels were running smoothly on the day therewould probably have been many less angry people voicingtheir anger publicly. At least the company staffers wereapologetic and responsive on Twitter and Facebook. Disaster rating: 4/10It‟s pretty poor show for a florist to fail to deliver to so manycustomers on the biggest day of the floral calendar but thesocial media storm was relatively brief, and only one storyabout it shows up on the first page of Google searchresults for the company three months later. The companycan‟t afford to keep fluffing the big occasions though or thesocial complaints might start to stick and it‟s “smileguarantee” will become worthless.
FEDEX’S FLYING DELIVERYDate of incident: December 2011If a picture is worth 1,000 words then a video could beworth 10,000 when it comes to social media issues. WhenYouTube user goobie55 caught a FedEx employee onCCTV breaking his new computer monitor by throwing thedelivery over his gate – even though he was at home at thetime – he posted the footage to YouTube. In just sixmonths the clip has racked up over 8m views and attracted25,000 comments – many telling their own negative FedExexperiences. It quickly went viral in social media channelsand the story featured in traditional media across the world.FedEx made a YouTube apology of its own, entitled"Absolutely, Positively Unacceptable" –"Along with many of As the leader of our pickup andyou, Ive seen the video of our courier," says Matthew delivery operations acrossThornton, senior vice president of the companys US America, I want you to know that Ioperations, "I am upset and embarrassed for our was upset, embarrassed, and verycustomers poor experience. This goes directly against all sorry for our customer’s poor experience. This goes directlyFedEx values." against everything we have always taught our people and expect of them. It was just very disappointing.
FEDEX’S FLYING DELIVERYCould the iceberg have been avoided? Possibly – ifemployees were more carefully vetted or had there beenno CCTV at the house. FedEx has pledged to use thevideo in future staff training programmes and I should thinkall delivery men now check for a security camera on arrival.In terms of how they handled the incident once it was in thepublic domain its hard to fault Fedex. Disaster rating: 3/10The video was genuinely shocking to watch and eightmillion people already have but the company was swift andappropriate with its response – sharing our shock andapologising unreservedly via the channel where the storystarted and all other available channels. FedEx didn‟t try tohide from the issue and explained that the courier wasbeing dealt with using appropriate disciplineprocedures, gaining positive comments from many on theirhandling of the incident. "FedEx has clearly stepped up tothe plate and handled this issue promptly andprofessionally," said one comment on their website. Manyothers took the opportunity to talk about how pleased theywere with the FedEx service they had received over theyears.
LA FITNESS LOCKS IN CUSTOMERSDate of incident: January 2012The troubles of gym brand LA Fitness started when apregnant women (a customer for six years) whosehusband had been made redundant was told by thecompany that she would not be allowed to break her twoyear contract and had to pay £780, money they simplycould not afford. The story actually broke first in theGuardian whose consumer champions managed to secure£420 off the bill for them – but it was Twitter that in the endmade LA Fitness back down. The Guardian article waspublished online on 20 January and the journalist whowrote about it tweeted it as well – things stayed pretty quietfor a few days until the Guardian‟s deputy editor Kath Vinertweeted about the story and a regular Twitter storm began.LA Fitness chose to release a Twitter statement saying „wedo not comment on individual cases‟ which added fuel tothe fire and then deleted the tweet, which made them lookeven worse. Meanwhile the Twitter outrage had become acampaign calling on all LA Fitness members to cancel theircontracts in protest. LA Fitness finally gave in, issuing aweak apology and withdrawing all charges and contractualobligations.
LA FITNESS LOCKS IN CUSTOMERSCould the iceberg have been avoided? Yes – atnumerous points of contact with the customer andsubsequently the Guardian. Then when the Twitter stormerupted LA Fitness could have backed down rather thantweeting and then untweeting a „no statement‟. At least ithad the sense to avoid a full-scale crisis by changingcourse a couple of hours later when they apologised for theregrettable “communication breakdown”. Disaster rating: 6/10LA Fitness was legally in the right in this case butunfortunately by failing to take account of the extenuatingcircumstances of one particularly sympatheticcustomer, they managed to draw attention to just howrestrictive and risky their customer contracts are and comeout looking uncaring, inflexible, arrogant and poor at socialmedia to boot. „No comment‟ simply doesn‟t work onTwitter and deleting your own tweets looks incompetentand like you‟ve got something to hide.
CHAPSTICK OFFENDS AND IS OFFENDEDDate of incident: October 2011Chapstick‟s social media shaming began with the releaseof a suggestive new print ad for the product with the words“Where Do Lost Chapsticks Go?” accompanied by apicture of a young woman‟s bending over the sofa allegedlysearching for her Chapstick and in smaller text “Be heardat Facebook.com/Chapstick”. A blogger who saw the adwas offended by it and commented as invited on theFacebook page but Chapstick deleted her comment so shewrote a post about it, which spawned an alternateFacebook page „Butt seriously, chapstick‟ and a petition towithdraw the ad. Meanwhile, deleting the Facebookcomment had started a firestorm of negative comments onthe original Facebook page with Chapstick deleting theseas fast as it could. The more comments it deleted, themore Fans wrote back, asking why comments wereobviously being deleted by the brand. By this time the storywas trending on Twitter and attracting traditional mediaattention from the likes of Forbes and the Wall StreetJournal. It took almost a week for Chapstick toacknowledge the situation and issue a classic non-apology(“we apologize that fans have felt like their posts are beingdeleted” that put the blame on the customers and furtherfuelled the media backlash.
CHAPSTICK OFFENDS AND IS OFFENDEDCould the iceberg have been avoided? Well, it couldhave not put out the controversial ad, not directly asked forFacebook comments on it, or at the very least not havedeleted them when it didn‟t like the content. Disaster rating: 7/10It could have been over fairly fast but more people wereoffended by Chapstick deleting comments and trying tocontrol the conversation they had invited, than by the aditself (many supported the ad) and that‟s certainly what gotChapstick bad attention in social and traditionalmedia, resulting in long term collateral damage to thebrand. Maybe the brand publicity made it worthwhile butwhilst courting controversy with a cheeky ad might makegood business sense – antagonising consumers anddeliberately shutting down their voices is always poorbusiness.
MCDONALDS INVITES CRITICS TO SHARE STORIESDate of incident: January 2012As part of its Promoted tweet ad campaign, McDonaldsused a #McDStories hashtag and it didn‟t take long forbrand critics to hijack the hashtag and start tweeting storiesabout animal cruelty, poor quality food, upset stomachsand unemployment. This was obviously not the kind ofvirality McDonalds was looking for and within two hours itpulled #McDStories campaign, saying that the effort “didnot go as planned.” However it couldn‟t stop stories beingtold using the hashtag (as they still are today) and by thistime the Twitterverse was buzzing with the story of the epichashtag fail, and it didn‟t take long for traditional mediaacross the world to run the story – each time repeating aselection of the criticisms levied at the fast food giant usingthe hashtag they had provided. To make thingsworse, McDonalds immediately followed up its Twitter failwith a new promoted hashtag asking “What #littlethingsbring you joy?” which brought a new wave of criticism:“Finally realizing that McDonald‟s food is quite disgusting”;“getting my children started early on morbid obesity –bringingthem to McDonald‟s”. and soon trended with#samemistaketwice. #McFail! McDonalds Twitter promotion backfires as users hijack #McDstories hashtag to share fast food horror stories
MCDONALDS INVITES CRITICS TO SHARE STORIESCould the iceberg have been avoided? Yes! By notstarting such a vague Twitter hashtag with clear potentialfor negative story-telling. Controversial corporate brandslike McDonalds need to focus on specific non-contentioussocial media activity to engage consumers around popularsubjects whilst monitoring the social media space forunusual criticism that requires a response. Disaster rating: 7/10A disaster on two fronts. Firstly the campaign undid lots ofMcDonalds good work over the past few years in helping tolay to rest stories of animal cruelty and bad qualityproducts, and it became a magnet for activists who wereable to reach a whole new audience. Secondly, nocompany wants to be famous for a social media #epicfailwhich McDonalds certainly is following its hashtag hash-up.
What can we learn?That customer issues can go viral fast and become global newsThat your employees are your brand – customer-focused behaviour is criticalThat silence can be deadly and trying to silence your critics even worseThat stating one thing when social media clearly tells a different story can backfireThat it is risky to start vague conversations that are open to hijackingThat being honest and saying sorry in a human way can make a lot of differenceThat all your staff need to be in the loop and to give out consistent informationThat your stakeholders can help make things better if you empower themThat social media provides many opportunities for you to show that you care
1. Prepare now! 6. Exercise Don’t wait for a absolute crisis to hit transparency2. Have water tight 7. Don’t feed governance & policies the trolls3. Be poised to move at 8. Never delete lighting speed negative comments4. Implement 9. Be prepared round-the-clock to apologise monitoring in public5. Listen, engage 10. Activate influencers & take action and advocates THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
HOW TO AVOID SOCIAL MEDIA ISSUES Grayling offers complete 360 social media strategy andreputation management and is available 24/7 to help you safely navigate new seas or provide immediate assistance should you hit an iceberg. We believe in an ‘inside-out’ approach, from the very heart of your organisation all the way out to your consumers, and will help you capitalise on the huge opportunities that social media presents as well as navigating those choppy waters. Give us a ring on 020 7025 7500 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org