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Your Company’s Crisis Playing at a Social Media Portal Near You: How to Respond Online When the Worst Happens to Your Brand


From the moment a man opens fire at your place of business, you are in a struggle for control of your brand.

For AMC Theaters, the struggle began within minutes of moviegoers being ushered out of the company’s Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, CO. That’s when the first tweet went out that “police r swarmin century 16.”

By morning, it was the nightmare every company worries about: your brand is attached to a national story that you have almost no control over. Even though almost every reasonable person recognizes that AMC could have done little to prevent it, the company found itself playing defense on the periphery of an enormous story that could directly affect its business.

From this point on, everything you announce, post and say will be scrutinized from every direction, fairly or not and you now have a deep relationship to the event and the customers who suffered. Acknowledging the impact on your business while some of your customers are mourned and others are in the hospital is perceived to be unseemly. Even a blog post like this gets special attention to be certain that it recognizes the much larger tragedy: that everyday people were killed for no other reason than that they went to see a movie.

For AMC this meant that their efforts to point out that they had a policy banning guns from their locations was only met with scorn and a new policy banning masks and fake guns became a Internet meme about costumes the company had to take to Twitter to dampen.

“Contrary to media reports, costumes are not banned, but we will not admit guests with face-concealing masks and we will not allow fake weapons in the buildings. We want all our guests to feel comfortable at our theatres and we will be closely monitoring,” the company said.

That a tragedy now unfolds on social media is a fact. Companies have no choice today but to monitor all the social portals for breaking news about themselves.

So, what does this mean and how can companies use online and social media to prepare for the crisis that could be tomorrow’s headline shared around the world? Here are some steps to take:

  • Create a plan now: You will need to designate the spokesperson, identify the important influencers and have a strategy and structure for responding as fast as you humanly can.
  • Prepare to create content quickly: Obviously you can’t draft a statement ahead of time, but you can make sure your staff knows the basic structure of any response: demonstrate concern, work with law enforcement to help them investigate the event and give updates as they become available.
  • Monitoring is more important than ever: There is no reason not to have a monitoring system in place using one of the many tools that finds and analyzes chatter and coverage of your brand. That includes expensive tools down to Google Alerts you can monitor for free. The old defense used to be that you hadn’t seen the complaint or had no information about the event. With the speed of social media, that is getting harder to hide behind.
  • Twitter is the new media research tool: You have to be aware of what’s happening right now involving your brand and Twitter is the means to do it – the reporters who cover you are already doing it. On the outreach side, you must be very careful what you post on it, if anything. Any link you post will move very fast around the Internet – make sure you get it right.
  • Consider the source: When you read egregious misinformation, use your tools to understand when you need to respond to it. If it’s from a dubious source with no followers, it may not need to be responded to unless it reaches critical mass. But, if you fear it will catch fire, you have to be ready to respond on the scale that is needed to kill the story.
  • Be respectful in your responses: All you can do is offer condolences and correct information. Your customers will now expect you to respond to the tragedy as they would: in human terms with a deep respect for the losses your customers and their families have suffered.
  • Keep your head: Your brand may depend on it.

At Elasticity, our thoughts are with those affected by the tragedy. To donate to the families of the Aurora victims visit givingfirst.org.

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