Picture: 123RF/ALEXMIA
Picture: 123RF/ALEXMIA

Any brand leader faced with a crisis will confirm that the first two days are make or break when it comes to salvaging your reputation in the media. That is the genesis of 48H, a new consultancy specialising in running crisis management on the social media front.

Many established reputation agencies offer crisis management as a standard option, but 48H is the first in SA dedicated to the task. It probably comes at the right time, given the many unforeseen obstacles thrown up by the pandemic.

Heading the operation are communication veterans Victor Dlamini and Mike Stopforth. Stopforth, an early social media and digital adopter, established the Cerebra agency that he eventually sold to media giant WPP. Dlamini, former chair of the successful and now defunct PR and ad agency Chillibush, was a senior staffer at the Electoral Commission of SA.

Victor Dlamini
Victor Dlamini

Dlamini believes the biggest mistake brands make when faced with a crisis is reacting too slowly, in the vain hope that it will somehow go away. "It never does, instead it only gets worse. The typical brand crisis often starts as something fairly innocuous. How the affected organisation manages it is what determines whether it spirals out of control or is averted. A crisis may start with someone complaining about a bad experience at a hotel, say. If the hotel is slow in responding and others start sharing their experiences, pretty soon you have a social media crisis."

Dlamini says most organisations only invest for good times and are happy to focus solely on their influencer strategy or search engine optimisation.

"They underestimate the importance of planning for when things go wrong. Truth only grabs their attention when it arrives."

Dlamini and Stopforth say social media has completely changed the media paradigm and though dominant platforms like Facebook and Twitter are nearly two decades old, brands should not think they have the concept taped: social media is constantly evolving and strategies continuously need to be refined and updated. Agility is the key.

"What’s more important is responsiveness, rather than strategy," says Dlamini. "You can’t retrofit a strategy into a current crisis."

Mike Stopforth
Mike Stopforth

48H will monitor a brand’s operating environment to pre-empt problems. But it’s when the proverbial fan is hit that 48H hopes to provide real value. It will be online in the first critical hours to "make sure all brand stakeholders have objective, experienced partners who can walk them through mitigating as much risk and long-term brand damage as possible".

According to the UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the biggest concern of communication directors the world over is the "changing social and digital landscape". A recent survey of its members found only 12% of communication practitioners with more than 21 years’ experience felt confident in their social and digital media management skills.

The importance of a social media crisis plan was shown in the Clicks/Unilever debacle this year, when an online campaign suggested that black hair was more likely to be "dry and damaged" while white women had "normal hair". Within minutes a Twitter storm erupted and while the retail chain and the manufacturer eventually apologised, the consensus was that they did not act quickly enough to mitigate real-time brand damage.

In the world of social media, brand crises can erupt in a moment and most times the audience is unforgiving.

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