Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Consumers are becoming more polarised than ever and they’re showing their values in the way they spend their money, says Jessica Liu in a recent Forrester report entitled “Social Crisis Management: Get back to basics”.

In this environment, brands worry about doing or saying the wrong thing on social media and losing popularity. But if they revert back to the basics of crisis management  –  well-articulated brand values, established processes and governance, as well as trusted partners with whom to work  –  Liu says brands have nothing to worry about.

The report claims that with social media becoming increasingly accepted as a form of expressing opinion – especially consumers’ opinions about brands – a well-established crisis management plan is all brands need to protect themselves against negative comment on these channels. According to Liu, social media crises may not be as serious as they first appear and brands should consider their ultimate effect on the bottom line, as opposed to assuming that negative social response will have a disastrous impact on the brand’s reputation.

Though consumer boycotts build quickly, they tend to lose steam quickly – like any social media content, they are replaced by whatever catches the short attention span of consumers through the continuous news feeds to which they’re exposed.

With strong brand and crisis management plans in place, brands will be able to weather any social media storm. These plans, the report urges, should be guided by the values of the brand, as they direct how the brand will respond in any given situation. Brand values should be strong, yet malleable.

Some brands are more risk averse than others. Here too, companies should have a documented policy on brand risk which shows how prepared the brand is to take chances with its reputation and its threshold for negative publicity. Of course, regulated industries such as financial services will be more averse to taking risks than a start-up that doesn’t mind being associated with a certain degree of controversy. Crisis management programmes should be designed to factor in the brand’s attitude to risk.

In fact, crisis management plans should be prescriptive and established – it’s no good trying to improvise while a crisis is taking place as this will only lead to mistakes being made – the report compares this to an architect building a house without a blueprint. Rather there needs to be a step-by-step plan in place (some agencies call this a playbook), which will guide a brand through any social media crisis. This should outline who is responsible for each part of the response plan, who has power of approval, templates for responses, creative brand guidelines, turnaround times and the like.

Ultimately, the only way to face a social media crisis is for a brand to be prepared by reverting back to the very basics of crisis management.

The big take-out: Social media can cause untold damage to a brand’s reputation, according to a recent Forrester report. A social media crisis management plan allows brands to weather most storms.

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