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Social media and a looming crisis

April 22, 2009

One thing that Domino’s Pizza just proved is that listening isn’t enough. They knew about the crisis, and they got the videos taken down. But what they failed to do, in my opinion, is respond. And thus, it’s considered one of the worst viral videos of all time. Already.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: 2009 will be the year of listening tools. Reputation management software, search engines that comb Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Delicious, YouTube, etc, will be pop up all over the place. We have one at our agency that helps us listen because listening is critical. But it’s only the first step.

Ask yourself this: is listening a crisis plan? It’s the cost of entry in thinking about a crisis, but it’s not a plan. Listening is the thing that triggers the plan. A brand requires a full on plan for the looming day that an employee sticks food up his bum, serves it, and then throws the whole hilarious episode up on YouTube.

Because those 30-year-old Domino’s employees taught us another thing: anything goes. If a 30-year-old thinks this is funny, what hilarity is an 18-year-old up to?

Scared yet?

So all brand managers need to sit back and think about their business. Start listening, but don’t stop there. Listening is just a clever use of software, responding takes people, and a plan.

Here are some simple steps:

  1. Identify, assemble and organize a core crisis team. The team needs to versed in the brand, and ready to act immediately.
  2. The team needs to represent the various disciplines of the brand to address a variety of situations. If the crisis is big enough, it might take TV. Consider that Domino’s ended up filming a response. A brand might need in-store POP, print, social media, and web.
  3. If the team is from the agency, it needs the authority to act. The time spent waiting for approvals could be costly to the reputation.
  4. The brand and team should conduct “what if?” planning sessions using people from various parts of the company to identify the various types of risks. (And yes, everything is on the table. What’s your brand’s Domino’s pizza moment?
  5. Does the company have a written social media policy? They are critical in potential legal steps that might be taken to advise employees about actions the company could take if an employee willfully commits an act that damages the brand.
  6. Develop a crisis communications resource kit that will have a range of materials, from phone trees to media lists and release templates to background documents.
  7. Conduct a crisis simulation training drill. Include live scenarios for the team, with the chance to sharpen response times.
  8. Conduct media training and other crisis management skills for spokespeople.
  9. Assess existing electronic capabilities and fill in the gaps where they exist. Does the brand have a presence on Facebook and Twitter? How about a YouTube Channel? These places can be useful if needed (Domino’s started a Twitter feed after the crisis).
  10. Establish a dark site that has easy to use content management capabilities that we can take live when/if it is needed to address issues.

These days, people like to share. And they are going to continue to share. And at certain points, people will share without using any judgment. If those people happen to work for your brand, everything the brand has been looking to build could erupt, just like that.

This doesn’t have to be a panic situation. But when pressed, wouldn’t it be nice to know your brand can be pressed into responding? Seems like a better strategy than hoping things blow over. That was Domino’s crisis plan. Look how that worked.

I don’t usually do this on the blog, but if you’ve read this far, then allow me the chance to tell you that my agency has a lot of talented people who can handle crisis planning. If you’re interested, just contact me, and I’ll put you in touch with the right person to talk to about your own crisis team. Because listening and knowing the list are only the first steps. The next step is getting smart people on the team who’ve managed a crisis in the past. And can step in and manage one in the future.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2009 5:33 pm

    Some really good points here. Some of the reasons people and organizations are scared or hesitant of social media is because of the potential fall-out that can occur. Your 10 points are great starting points to help mitigate the risk and put to rest the worries. When communication officers are putting together their crisis communication plan, its usually focused on how to disseminate information about a threat on campus or weather warnings but after reading your post, I think it is important that campus crisis communication plans include dealing with social media emergencies.

  2. April 29, 2009 2:38 am

    You have made very good points, its time they started listen to their customers insteed of trying to force them to have it the way the companys want.
    No wonder they sell bad, its not because of the sharing so much as the fact that they are not meeting their customers

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