“The bigger they are, the harder they fall” is an adage that seems to hold true for big brands in social media these days. When big brands mishandle a situation in the social media sphere, the fallout can be significant for the companies.
But these failures hold valuable lessons for us in higher ed social media work. These situations, as they become magnified and amplified into full-blown crises by social media’s “Ever-Shifting Mob” (fellow higher ed blogger Dennis Miller‘s apt description), should serve as cautionary tales for all of us who deal with social media in the higher education.
- The Applebee’s firestorm that occurred after the company fired a waitress for posting a photo of a receipt from a pastor who wrote on the bill, “”I give God 10% why do you get 18”; and
- The out-of-control Twitter chatter that occurred in the UK when struggling music retailer HMV announced layoffs, which one of its social media managers live-tweeted.
Social media and PR, integrated
Both situations contain important lessons about the importance of integrating social media and public relations functions during a crisis. But there are other issues at play here:
- Respond quickly but thoughtfully. Speaking to Brandchannel, SHIFT Communications CEO Todd Defren advises to “respond immediately to show you’re listening, but that needn’t mean falling on the sword. Most reasonable folks just need to know you’re aware and pondering vs. reacting thoughtlessly. ‘We hear you and we’re thinking this through. We’ll get back to you’ is a placeholder for sanity.”
- Manage your social media presence. A no-brainer, right? But the ultimate failure in both situations was a lack of organizational structure for handling a brewing social media crisis. “Crisis communications in social should be planning like a PR crisis: there should be both preparation and response,” Teresa Caro of Enguage told Brandchannel. “[B]rands must have an upfront plan that anticipates a reaction.”
- Be transparent. It’s cliche, but true. “The essence of a strong relationship with customers is transparency,” said Frederick Felman, CMO of MarkMonitor. “In the case of a faux pas, do the right thing – acknowledge the issue and engage in sincere and honest dialog with the community.”
All great advice. But much of it boils down to 1.) integrating social and PR functions for any organization, 2.) planning and preparing for the inevitable social media dust-up, and 3.) management training and empowering the PR and social media team to respond in real time.
A year ago, I wrote about how the PR and social media functions in higher education should be integrated at all times — not just during a crisis situation. Maybe it’s time to revisit that topic for further discussion, and to see how far higher ed has come in a year.
P.S. – Another post worth reading on one of these crises is Dennis Miller’s A tip for Applebee’s. A higher ed PR veteran, Miller offers some good thoughts on how that corporation and its “sadly under-prepared management” might have handled the situation better.