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The clock barked 4:30 a.m. Or was it our dog Pinky, whose cries got us out of bed just in time to let the police in. A strange night, indeed, as a deranged neighbor climbed over fences and tried to kick in doors dressed in nothing but his underwear. As New York’s finest took “the loony” away in handcuffs, believe it or not, my wife and I went right back to sleep, knowing all our safeguards had worked. Crisis averted.
The very next day I ran into a seasoned social media executive in a particularly jocular mood. I asked, “Why the smiles?” He explained that an unfavorable video about his company had just gone viral, and now his management would have to take social media a lot more seriously. At that moment I wondered, how many companies are waiting for a social media “break-in” before they install “security?”
Fortunately for you, I’m not the only one pondering this question. Altimeter Group published a study back in August that looked at 50 social media crises since 2001. The report details how unprepared these companies were from both a staffing and planning perspective. It also found that 76% of the crises could have been diminished, if not averted, with proper preparation.
The Altimeter report does a great job of outlining “how advanced companies prepare” for social media crises and is well worth a closer study. So that’s not my purpose here. Rather, I’m struck by the fact that many of today’s leading social media practitioners like Dell, Comcast and Domino’s were all caught off guard just a few years ago. Certainly these social media crises didn’t go to waste.
Dell’s problems began in 2005 when blogger Jeff Jarvis created a firestorm of customer service complaints. “Dell Hell,” as the viral nightmare was called, became front-page news and even hurt the company’s stock price. Since then, Dell has transformed itself into a customer-centric listening machine that even involves founder Michael Dell, who is known to send tweets directly to delighted customers.
Similarly, Comcast’s crisis commenced with the untempered ire of a journalist. Bob Garfield’s “Comcast Must Die” blog went viral faster than you can say “Excedrin headache.” Shortly thereafter, Frank Eliason stepped up on Twitter with @ComcastCares, setting the stage for Comcast to begin a true customer service makeover. Eventually, even Garfield came to admire these improvements.
Domino’s felt the sting of social media in 2009 when two employee/pranksters posted a disgusting video on YouTube. Domino’s sales dropped 10% nationally but not in Chicago, where a local store manager, Ramon DeLeon, waged a localized rebuttal campaign via the social channels he’d already established. DeLeon was prepared to “fight social media fire with social media water,” a lesson Domino’s HQ eventually took to heart as well.
These three examples are worth revisiting for several reasons. First, these crises brought into view broader product and service issues that had festered for several years. Jarvis’ complaints about Dell only snowballed when several hundred other customers joined the gripe-fest. The same goes for Garfield’s conflict with Comcast. As for Domino’s, they soon admitted themselves that their pizza had almost as little flavor as the box it came in.
It’s also significant that each of these companies bypassed a superficial social media response with a tweet here and a Facebook post here and instead implemented much more comprehensive solutions. Dell launched Idea Storm and a social media Command Center, while empowering employees worldwide to become social ambassadors. Domino’s went so far as to completely change their basic product and invited the public to weigh in along the way.
But most importantly, we can learn from their mistakes and do some preemptive corporate soul searching by asking ourselves these three questions:
- Do you really need to wait for a crisis to fix those long overlooked product or service issues?
- Do you really want to wait for a social media crisis before you start taking all of this social stuff seriously?
- Wouldn’t it be nice if a year from now your company was the one that avoided a social media crisis altogether because of your preparation?
The good news is that preparing for the worst actually will create several long-term benefits for your company and/or brand. For example, training employees to be brand ambassadors will improve job satisfaction and retention rates. Implementing customer listening programs will not only improve customer satisfaction but also generate new product ideas that drive future growth. And perhaps best of all, you’ll sleep a little better at night knowing you’re ready for whatever surprises climb over your social media fence.
Note: if this looks familiar, then you saw it first on MediaPost.com
Most of marketing fears Social Media. So they avoid it. Because they do not know it. And their agencies just recommend facebook, twitter, etc., just to be there.
Honestly, there is no 'just being there'. Either you truly live it or you don't. If you don't, you will never be prepared, or alert, or calm, if the crisis hits you.
Better you get your own Social Media pond, sail a little bit, enjoy the good weather. The better you get by practising, the better you get at outgrowing your Social Media horizons and limitations, the better you will master the first big storm.
Yes, I know, this is the same stuff I keep telling for years. But learning Social Media is like learning to bike, to swim, to write. You will have to learn it, to master it, but then you will never forget.
You will have to practice and you will evolve. If you don't like it, you will never become good at it. If you like it, it will feel like the easiest, most normal, most basic, and most natural thing you have ever done: talk with people, respect their opinion, care for them …)
Drew is the CEO of Renegade, the digital & guerrilla marketing agency from New York City that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service." Twitter: @DrewNeisser