PR Nightmares and Social Media: Winning Back Customer Trust

By Keith Chachkes

If 2017 has taught us anything so far, it’s that PR disasters can be made a hundred times worse by social media ineptitude.
Whether it was United Airlines (first videos, then Twitter), Uber (Facebook, Twitter), Burger King (Twitter) or Pepsi (across every form of media conceivable), this has been the Year of the Major Social Media Fail. In the past, these stories might have blazed for a few days, and then been forgotten. But today, a mob of enraged former brand loyalists with smartphones will sink your stock faster than you can say #BobMarleyFilter or #DeleteUber.

In the midst of a crisis of reputation, it’s not enough to simply weather the storm. You have a responsibility to build back your customers’ trust. It can seem overwhelming to be the steward of a brand with nerve damage, but here are a few things that can help:

1. Don’t Troll the Trolls. One of the absolute worst things you can do is to fight anger with more anger. Nothing energizes an angry mob on social media like keeping the ill will going. Your tone in a crisis must at all times be thoughtful, sincere and tirelessly apologetic.

2. Don’t Release a Statement Too Soon. Quickly trotting out your mission statement or trumpeting your company policies will feel just plain defensive. Yes, time is of the essence, but you have the time to take a moment to survey the situation.

3. You Have the Technology. You Can Rebuild This. Your best friends in a time of crisis are your social listening tools. Understanding not only what the sentiment is about your brand, but exactly where it’s at its worst will guide where you put your resources and consideration.

4. Stay Humble. When – and if — your brand starts feeling the love again, don’t be too quick to pat yourself on the back. The memes may have slowed to a crawl, but the memory of fans on social media is considerably longer than it used to be.

5. Have A Plan for Next Time. Some of these brands we’ve been discussing won’t learn anything from their experience, and soon we’ll all be right back here discussing them again. Savvy companies always have a plan in place for the next crisis, the next viral mess to clean up, with a clear order of operations on how to proceed without further embarrassment and loss of customers.

These suggestions are not going to prevent your brand from running into trouble from a PR or social media standpoint. However, they will help light your way back from the abyss if you fall in one.

Keith is the Social Media Manager at ICR, working in the digital, social, and creative services team.

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