Social Media – Social Media Crisis Management

I’m still fretting about Domino’s Pizza. As you’ll all know, the company came under some pressure earlier in the year as two employees posted a video on YouTube of themselves – ahem – ‘abusing’ the food they were preparing. Cue furore. Anyway, it’s in the past now, the company hasn’t gone bust and pizzas continue to be delivered to the free world as usual.

Thing is that there are two schools of thought on Domino’s response to the crisis (for such it was). One is that they handled it well, the other (clearly) is that they didn’t. (Just so you know where I stand, I read that it took them some time to address the issue and when they did, the response was limited.)

Anyway, as I was looking for reportage on the incident, I came across this on usatoday.com, which got me thinking more about the general principles of handling a ‘social networking attack’ (their words not mine). The article publishes the views of experts – I reproduce them here. As usual, the plain text is theirs, the italics are mine.

“Here are key things experts say marketers can do to quickly catch and respond effectively to similar social-networking attacks:

• Monitor social media. Big companies must actively watch Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social sites to track conversations that involve them. That will help uncover potential crises-in-the-making, says Brian Solis, a new-media specialist and blogger at PR2.0.

Couldn’t agree more with this, and it’s not difficult to do – however, although it’s easy to believe that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are the only social media, there are (of course) myriad others that may not appear on the radar and which could be the source of your issue. Nothing beats pre-planning – what are the issues that could impact your business and how would you handle them (and how would you respond) if they came up? Your crisis management plan needs a social media section.

• Respond quickly. Domino’s responded within hours. “They responded as soon as they heard about it, not after the media asked, ‘What are you going to do?’ ” says Lynne Doll, president of The Rogers Group, a crisis-management specialist.

This isn’t what I heard, but responding practically immediately is exactly what’s required.

• Respond at the flashpoint. Domino’s first responded on consumer affairs blog The Consumerist, whose activist readers helped track down the store and employees who made the video. Then it responded on the Twitter site where talk was mounting. “Domino’s did the right thing by reinstituting the trust where it was lost,” Solis says.

Yes, by all means – but how are you going to deal with the wider fall-out? Trust may initially have been lost on Twitter, but you can be certain it was also lost amongst the readers of mainstream, traditional media, who don’t go online, and don’t use social networks. They won’t have seen the response.

• Educate workers. It’s important that all employees have some media and social-media training, says Ross Mayfield, co-founder of Socialtext, which advises companies on new media.

No it isn’t. It’s important that all employees understand what your social media policy is, and the consequences of breaching it.

• Foster a positive culture. Workers who are content and customers who like your product are far less likely to tear down a company online, PR guru Katie Delahaye Paine says. “This would be a lot less likely to happen at places like Whole Foods.”

These are, unfortunately, Utopian motherhood statements. Workers are not content and not everyone likes your product. Social media or not, there is always a risk – even at Whole Foods – that someone will have a go. By all means invest in company culture and corporate reputation – but don’t forget your contingency planning.

• Set clear guidelines. Companies must have clear policies about what is allowed during working hours — and what isn’t, Doll says. “It won’t prevent everyone from breaking the rules, but at least they’ll know what the rules are.”

Yes – but make it a policy, not a set of guidelines. Guidelines are open to misinterpretation and flex – policies say what is and isn’t allowed and specify the penalties for infringement. Call them rules, if necessary.

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