Brand Crisis! Dealing with Social media Disasters Before They Happen


When people in the UK think of branding crisis, high profile incidences such as the BP oil spill come to mind. However, social media crises are becoming increasingly common. They can affect businesses both large and small. A new report from the Altimer Group suggests that that 76% of this year’s social media crises could have been minimized or avoided altogether if the company involved had trained their staff to respond appropriately.

But first, what is a social media crisis? By definition, it is a business crisis that is caused or exacerbated by social networking. A good example would be the public relations crisis that Nestle faced a little over a year ago when Greenpeace criticized their use of palm oil by posting a video of an office worker biting an orangutan’s finger rather than a Nestle candy bar.

Nestle responded by having YouTube remove the video and directing visitors to its social networking pages to an official response. Some responses to negative posts were made, but these were attacking and very unprofessional. When the number of negative comments reached epic proportions, the company began to delete them.

In short, Nestle acted both defensively and offensively, but never proactively. Like many UK companies, Nestle did not have a plan for dealing with social media crises. Here are a few things that should be a part of every company’s public relation crisis plan:

  1. Delegation of duties. When you have a social media crisis, you will need to have a person seeking out the negative buzz on the internet and (if possible) another one responding to it. All responses on the internet should be made in a positive, professional tone with no immaturity or attacking language.
  2. Respond in kind. It is usually the best plan to respond in the same format in which the attack on your company was made. For example, create a video response for a critical YouTube video and post it as a response. This way, every person who views the video will also view a link to your side of the issue.
  3. Be human. Now is not the time to sound like a corporate wonk. Although it is important to behave professionally, you should be as personal as possible. People will attack an impersonal corporation before they will go after a real person.
  4. Respect freedom of speech. When Nestle lobbied to have the Greenpeace video deleted and later began deleting comments, they came across as trying to squash the other side’s point of view. They looked like an angry Goliath attacking a dissenter. This fed the flames of the crisis and enraged many people in the UK and elsewhere.
  5. Emphasize the positive. Bring up ways that you are dealing positively with the issue. For example, Nestle could have explained that many people in the candy industry use palm oil, that the company was aware of the potential issues and that they are looking for an affordable, less destructive alternative. In other words, the company is changing for the better, but this takes time.