Sep 21, 2012
By Leslie Poston
Social Media Marketing, Best Practices

We hear so often about the flubs, flops, and disasters of social media crisis management by brands. I wanted to take a few minutes and look at some of my favorite moments of crisis resolution (and prevention) by brands online and highlight the things they are doing right.

By focusing on brands doing it right, we can encourage good online habits in other corporate responses. Good social media habits and good corporate stewardship are the building blocks to a brand that does well online (and off).

Rainbow cookies don't seem very controversial on the surface (everyone loves cookies), but our first example is a marketing campaign that could have caused a crisis for Kraft Foods, the brand behind the beloved Oreo Cookie. This summer they posted the first of what would turn out to be many images in support of various issues, causes and holidays: a rainbow stuffed cookie for Gay Pride month.

The brand received some unexpected backlash from people who feel strongly about the issue, but overall found only staunch support from the majority of its loyal fans. In fact, the fans themselves defended the cookie maker on their Facebook page! This is a sign that your brand is doing marketing right: if your fans are willing to help you handle a problem online. This is the kind of loyalty brands should strive for through genuine online engagement.

The brand did respond to fans who were upset by the ad (one of many, including their own dunking take on the Call Me Maybe meme) firmly, but with grace and sensitivity. The tone of this response from the brand and consistency in response from email to social media helped keep the crisis from blowing up:

“We are excited to illustrate what is making history today in a fun and playful way,” the company rep said in an email to ABC News. “As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness. We feel the OREO ad is a fun reflection of our values.”

FedEx Response Social Media VideoI've talked about the excellent and swift FedEx response to an employee tossing a monitor over a wall before - most recently in the All-Star Social Media Crisis Response for Brands ebook, and our own Dave Thomas highlighted the reasons this response was a shining example of good crisis management in his post for Salesforce Radian6 as well.

Suffice to say that this remains a favorite example of a brand doing it right in social media. Key takeaways include: C-Suite level response, responding on the appropriate platform, responding swiftly, positive response tone, direct to customer resolution offline to handle the issue of damaged goods.  This was an all-around win for FedEx.

Burger King recently had a potential crisis on their hands when images of an employee standing in lettuce started making the rounds of internet site 4Chan (launching point for many of the viral memes we enjoy around the internet). People who enjoy eating at Burger King were understandably disgusted by the image, however Burger King took swift action: using internet tools to find the store in question, then locating and identifying the employee by the shoes shown in the photo, then promptly firing the employee and sharing that crisis resolution on social media. Time from crisis eruption to resolution: just over 24 hours.

Burger King did several things right here. First, like FedEx, they obviously had a crisis response plan in place that allowed them to not only act quickly, but to quickly get help from the internet in solving the issue. Second, they took swift, unequivocal action to remove the problem and ensure it didn't happen again. Third, they responded to their customers online quickly and efficiently, issuing a response that included: "“Food safety is a top priority at all Burger King restaurants and the company maintains a zero-tolerance policy against any violations such as the one in question.”

The Red Cross is in the business of crisis management on a large scale for other people. By successfully handling over 70,000 disasters and requests for help each year using their crisis response programs and excellent listening and monitoring tools they stand out as an example of what to do online if you manage crises for other people, or if your brand is affected by crises other people are facing. (Scott & White Healthcare's response to a local shooting incident at Ford Hood is another excellent example).

Domino's has had a few social media scares in recent years, and one reason I'm highlighting them here is for how they've used them as learning moments to continually improve their overall social media crisis response. Every fumble in the Domino's playbook led to their shining crisis response moment when they launched their campaign acknowledging that their pizza quality suffered and putting the fans in front of the charge to fix it. This was a bold move by a company that had struggled to hear its customers online, and a big step forward for the brand.

What Domino's is doing right is not just listening to the customer and making changes in their pizza, but opening a dialogue with the customer online via their social sites and tools like the pizza tracker that lets you follow your pizza from order to delivery, so you know who is handling it at any given point. I love that they made pizza as a process more personal. Not only that, the company has now developed a top-down culture of excellent service.

Last but not least, let's look at how Citi handled the crisis of a viral video that showed customers supposedly getting arrested for trying to close accounts. Digging deeper in my interview with Frank Eliason of Citi, I was pleased to see that in typical Frank fashion, he didn't simply offer a cold press release, but instead came out swinging front and center at a conference less than 24 hours later - showing more video from the scene that told the complete picture.

Citi is doing things right by creating a human touch as a key part of their engagement as a bank - not a traditional approach. Granted, they have a secret weapon in Frank Eliason, but the viral video was certainly not the only crisis they have successfully and positively resolved (see more in the interview). Companies can learn the importance of listening and compassion through Citi's examples, and how it has a direct correlation to retention and the corporate bottom line.

All of these positive crisis resolutions have a few things in common:

  • Listening. Above all else, these companies have learned how to listen across platforms for developing issues and what their customers truly want and need.
  • Crisis response plan. Having a plan in place enables speedy and correct response.
  • Tone. All of these companies have learned that empathy, humor and/or authenticity go a long way to resolve crises and diffuse tense situations.
  • Top-down adoption of social. All of these responses were directly from, or directed by, the folks at the top of the organization. Leading by example is key, and creates a company culture that leads to successful resolutions of crises (and less crises to resolve in the first place)
  • Follow-through. Every one of these examples followed up and followed through with the people affected by the crisis.

One last thing -- check out from Virgin America from Dreamforce last week. Virgin America is a company that is planning ahead for customer happiness and crisis prevention using tools like Salesforce Chatter:

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