Social Media, marketing and crisis management

As a follow up to the comments on my post about Eurostar – a communications failure not a social media failure I thought I’d take a look at the wider picture of the role social media plays in communications and companies approach to using the channels. Since I started writing this post, Robin Grant of we are social has posted his account of the day, explaining the relationship they have with Eurostar, which was pretty much as I expected.

360 Communications

Companies have multiple routes available to them for communication but they also have multiple sources. Sales, marketing, corporate communications, customer service, reputation management, crisis management, they’re all there and they are all going to have a different toolset available to them. For most times, separating the control and the budget behind these seems to make financial sense, at least in the current corporate arrangements. But when there’s a crisis, all of these channels need to work together. If there’s a problem with a product or brand, then most people don’t see the internal silo walls, they would expect to get the same information wherever they go, wherever there is a touchpoint.

Crisis planning is not something that should be left to a crisis. It needs thought and preparation. In an ideal world, the plans should use ALL the available channels, whether that is getting the CEO on the TV or getting active on Twitter. The crisis team should therefore have access to everything they could possible be use – and have the training to use it. All the necessary passwords should be ready to go, so if the comms team need to use marketing channels, they are easily able to do so. They don’t have to find out who is in charge of the Facebook page, find out where they are and get them to send the passwords in, they need to be there. The same with the website – there should always be an easy way to get news and information quickly onto the site.

One thing I did find interesting is that Eurostar have gone through this before, but none of the lessons seems to have been reflected upon and procedures adjusted.

The reality of introducing social media into brands

The reality is that in most companies still don’t think this way. From my perspective, companies seem to start using social media in two broad categories: customer service, driven from internal staff and set up and managed from them or marketing driven where they bring in an agency to advise them. External agencies generally have a very tight brief, they need to focus on the campaign that they have been given. Robin makes this clear:

When we first met with Eurostar, as we do with all of our clients, we talked to them about the need for to put a real-time social media listening and responding programme and crisis plan in place, and proposed a conversation audit and consultancy project to help them implement such a programme. As is common with any business at the early stages of coming to terms with social media, they could see the long term benefits of such a strategy, however as adapting their existing processes had wider implications across the business they decided to start small by moving forward with the Little break, Big difference campaign, to learn from the experience of engaging in conversations in social media.

This is consistent with my experience. I’ve always tried to speak to companies about using the tools holistically, but the money and focus is only on the one thing. They don’t have the budget nor the internal authority to expand the remit of the brief, the changes required to put these processes in place are too large for them to do there and then. If they’re lucky, they’ll have time to experiment, learn and expand the role of social media internally.

In the Eurostar case, the company had not yet implemented the use of social media monitoring or crisis management. A company that had been contracted to work in one area stepped up to assist, using the channels to get the word out despite it being out of scope. They’re also having to do their own version of crisis management as their reputation is being hit, being the people behind one of the few online channels Eurostar has.

Should a company use the tools in a crisis when they haven’t planned?

Yes, but with care. If there’s already a Twitter feed, facebook page, blog or whatever out there that can be used and the company has a willing partner ready to step in, then yes. This is what has happened with Eurostar. However, I’d be less inclined to suggest a company with no experience to assign someone to suddenly to set up these channels in the middle of a crisis if they have to spend time and effort trying to understand them. That’s not to say it should not be done, if you can get someone to focus on monitoring, assessing and responding to these channels if will go a long way, but the middle of the crisis is not the best time to be learning about the finer points of Twitter etiquette.

In summary:

  • Customers expect a company to use all channels available to communicate in a crisis and don’t care if you only use Twitter for marketing. They expect the you to use what they have
  • Planning is essential. Training is necessary. Looking at communications as a whole is needed in a world where there are more than the old broadcast mechanisms controlled by gatekeepers, when anyone can be a reporter about your issues.

All companies should be learning from the Eurostar situation and reviewing their crisis plans ready for when they need to do something. So what are you waiting for?

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