Last week I was contacted by a company that found itself in an unfortunate position. One of the products it produces had been failing, and bloggers were taking to the internet to voice their displeasure. The end result was that if you Googled the company and its product, the majority of the top results were, you guessed it, from angry bloggers.
So what happens if your company finds itself in a similar situation with customers running with pitchforks in hand to their blogs and Twitter to rake your company over the coals? What’s your plan of action? Here’s the advice I gave them for correcting this issue, and how your company can handle a similar crisis in three steps:
1 – Fix the problem. No amount of social media or ANY other type of on or offline communications will help you until your company FIRST fixes the problem. If you have a defective product, or shoddy customer service, or whatever, you have to first address the ROOT CAUSE of the customer complaints. And once you have a solution in place for the problem….
2 – Actively respond to customers via social media. Find the customers that are blogging and twittering and Facebooking their displeasure over your company, and let them know that first, you hear them and thank them for their feedback. Second, that you apologize. Third, that you have a PLAN IN PLACE to fix the problem. Fourth, that you’re here and listening, and invite further feedback from them, and give them a way to get in touch with you.
Last week when Graco announced a recall to one of its strollers, the company turned to Twitter to interact with customers and get them information about which strollers were and were not affected by the recall. Timely communication such as this also helps stunt the spread of rumors and misinformation, which only makes the company’s crisis management efforts twice as hard. Additionally, customers loved how Graco was proactive in reaching out to them, and a potentially negative situation for the company became a positive one.
Customers want to know that you hear them, and what you are going to do to correct the problem. If you can show them that you are listening, that you are taking their criticism to heart and ACTING on it, then that criticism will slowly turn into positive evangelism for your company. That means those existing negative Google results for your company and product will begin to turn positive.
3 – Start getting correct information out via social media channels. But your company still needs to ‘tell its story’. Many people will be doing research on Google for your product before they buy, so you need to make sure they see the correct information about your product and company. If you have a blog, this is where you can let customers know what you are doing to address the situation, and how you are correcting the problem. If you aren’t currently blogging, this is a great excuse for starting one. Dell’s company blog had barely been in place for a week in 2006 when the ‘exploding laptop’ issue ‘blew up’. But having the blog in place gave Lionel and the rest of Dell’s blogging team a channel to get relevant and accurate information out about the situation, and what Dell was doing to correct it.
So there’s a simple 3-point plan for avoiding a social media firestorm; Fix the problem, Respond to customers letting them know you have fixed the problem, Get the word out via your OWN social media channels that you have fixed the problem. But again, the starting point is to fix the problem. If you think that you ignore the core issue and just use social media to ‘push down’ negative Google results, you are setting yourself up for failure.
The only thing worse than a company that doesn’t respond during a crisis is one that DOES respond, yet still doesn’t fix the problem.