Three critical mistakes in managing a social media crisis

By Sue Reninger

As guests and consumers, we’re bombarded with brand messaging more than ever before. Between social media platforms, word of mouth, traditional marketing and the now viral nature of brand messaging, we’ve created our own sense of noise pollution. In fact, it now takes not seven, but 12 to14 advertising, social media, public relations and brand messages to motivate our consumers to dine. There’s just one exception to this rule, however, in food marketing: negative messages.

Today, one negative message can take a brand down faster than you can type “facebook”. Poor consumer reviews in the social media space. A Twitpic that unfavorably portrays the restaurant, the brand or an employee. An unfortunate offline event that is aired, vocally, in the social media space. The possibilities are endless, and very real. It can range from mild to disastrous, but make no mistake about it: Negative viral messaging is a crisis, any way you post it.

Staying out of the social media space is no longer a viable option. So what’s the answer? As a team that works almost exclusively with growing and emerging food brands, we know from experience that thinking through the crisis with a careful plan before you enter the space is imperative. Avoiding a crisis may not be completely realistic, but knowing some common pitfalls and learning from others’ past experiences can protect your brand in the worst of social media scenarios – not to mention those of a more traditional nature.

Mistake #1: Keeping Social Media Conversations Online. Although sharing a resolution in a public forum that enlists Facebook, Twitter or YouTube can be helpful, as was the case with Domino’s, discussing the problem in the social media space is a recipe for disaster. Consumers feel empowered with their new sense of voice in the social media space. And that’s a good thing. But once a negative post is made, what they really need, is to be listened to – in an offline conversation. Too often, brands believe that if conversations begin online, they should stay online, discounting the fact that some claims (although they appear to real) can often be elevated or misconstrued in the social media space. Take your consumer by the hand and speak with them, if possible, voice to voice. Document carefully your conversations. Really listen to them in way that can be achieved only in an offline conversation. By simply allowing your guest to be heard, anger often dissipates, and reconciliation begins.

Mistake #2: Forgetting that your brand is a promise. Your brand is, in short, a set of expectations you communicate in a multitude of ways to various consumers and guests. Disney is family fun. Nike is empowerment. What is your promise, and how will you uphold it in the social media space hour-to-hour and day-by-day – before a crisis occurs? Too often, social media, still today, is considered “hip and cool” – too cool, in fact for such tried and true disciplines as brand management. Refocusing on the essence of that promise before and during a crisis offers clarity, focus and a solid foundation to building, and rebuilding trust. If you’re in the middle of a crisis due to a broken promise, the worse thing you can do is perpetuate the situation in the middle of managing a damaged reputation.

Mistake #3: Avoiding Leadership. Any message strategy that involves a brand should assist in stabilizing and/or reestablishing brand leadership. Fortunately, offline and before a crisis exists, once leadership is built, it’s very difficult to take away. Perhaps more importantly, leadership helps to stabilize a brand in times of crisis, as consumers are more apt to be forgiving. But in the midst of a crisis, that security is at stake without clear and unquestionable leadership. Carefully crafting messages that convey a sense of concern, balanced with a sense of clear minded confidence will pay dividends in terms of moving forward with your valuable food brand after the crisis.

* Sue Reninger is a managing partner at RMD Advertising, specializing in client brand strategies for growing and emerging food brands, serving clients such as TGIFriday’s, Panera Bread, Henny Penny, Anomatic, Orlando Foods and more. Email: Reninger@RMDadvertising

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