Social media and customer service: take 2 – crisis communications, educating, engaging

April 24, 2009

Just re-read my last post, and wanted to expand on it slightly, because I think I make it appear as if the main value in “listening” online is to enable you to respond and engage with users who don’t like your company, product or sector and in this way help shape the online debate in the long-term.

First, it’s not always just the long-term that matters. Something goes terribly wrong, you’ve got a PR calamity on your hands, you’re in crisis communications mode and your online response needs to be very much short-term because the web is where bad news spreads the fastest. What do you do? These are, in short, the steps to take:

  1. You establish your position and what you’re going to say (this is valid for offline as well as online communications.) If you’ve done something where you’re patently in the wrong, admit to it, apologise, and take very tangible action to make amends. If the bad press is actually unrepresentative and you simply want to correct it, try to be nice about it i.e. don’t say that whoever is spreading the news is a so and so, but just correct the mistake.
  2. You set-up an online hub on your website where you publish your apology, rebuttal, immediate response or whatever. All updates should be made here first and all your other communication should point here.
  3. You get the best online monitoring set-up (using a specialised agency) and set up a dedicated team that will deal with follow-up.
  4. When you come across the story in reputable blogs or other sites, fora etc., you respond (being humble and staying on message..) and direct users to your hub. Result? If done well, you’ll slow down the spread of negative press while your response becomes part of the story, rather than just what went wrong.

Second, it’s not just about engaging with naysayers. You want to produce content that educates people beyond the negative press you’re getting, meaning that you don’t just communicate in response to criticism. You also need to proactively produce content that can contribute to the debate. And you want to engage with people who actually support your position too: tell them you appreciate their material and provide them with other content, and over time, build up relationships with them. This is probably the most important element of a long-term approach, as you’re helping to nurture a community of ambassadors who support your position.

UPDATE: just came across this post about online crisis communications (in French.)

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