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When Crisis Strikes
Sonal Khetarpal
New Delhi, Edition:June 4, 2017
When Crisis Strikes

Silence is not golden; not on social media. United Airlines learnt this the hard way recently. When the video of an Asian man being dragged out of a United Airlines flight, on account of the flight being overbooked, created a furore on social media, the airline maintained a stoic silence. Twitterati erupted in outrage - some boycotting the airline, others sharing their own horror stories - as the video topped the trending chart. The Chicago-based airline underestimated the gravity of the situation. It took too long to react, and when it did, the clarification was impassive.

A Facebook post, tweet or WhatsApp message has the potential to spread like wildfire, if not dealt with in time. "Companies can no longer sweep complaints under the rug. They have to keep a tab on what is being written about them all the time," says Charles Lankester, EVP, Global Reputation and Risk Practice, Ruder Finn. "If you are not talking about it, someone else will, and they will not be your friend," he adds.

How do you nip an issue in the bud? First, establish the magnitude of the problem and then outline the communication strategy. "The company's stance has to be in sync with its product positioning and values," says Siddharth S. Singh, Associate Professor of Marketing at Indian School of Business. For instance, if the company stands by the quality of meat it serves, it should not ignore any comment by the consumer about stale food served at its restaurant. If it does, treating it as a one off incident, the cumulative effect of such comments can be damaging. "If negative imagery of a brand is portrayed over and over in the media, it can linger in public consciousness, affecting its reputation and relationship with consumers," he adds.

Ayesha Chenoy, CEO of digital agency RepIndia, suggests that companies "explain, acknowledge or apologise at the earliest" to become a part of the conversation and deal with the issue. She shares an instance where a large skincare company faced a backlash because a customer had an unsatisfactory facial. The company did not engage with the customer, and the post was shared almost 3,000 times overnight. In contrast, an international burger chain managed a consumer complaint rather deftly. A customer tweeted about receiving a wrong order by the burger chain. Having extracted the tweet within hours, the company made a call to the consumer and apologised directly. The matter was resolved in a day. "It is this access to consumers that companies should leverage on social media," Chenoy adds.

Crisis management on social media is about customer relationship management. Consumers understand that it is ok to make mistakes and are willing to forgive if they see clear communication from the company. Deleting posts is not an answer, nor is ignoring them - companies will have to eventually face the bane of screenshots. "Deal with the comment instead of being defensive or evasive. Digital and social media are the only platforms where the communication can be two-way; brands should take advantage of that instead of hiding from it," says Chenoy.

To prepare against uncertainties, Lankester suggests that companies work on hypothetical situations with clear scripts on the plan of action. The top management must participate, too, so that they are not caught off guard. Being better prepared, instead of firefighting, by having a step-by-step communication guide with answers can help companies be in control. "There is a whole new world of uncertainties out there. Companies have to be prepared for the unknowns," Lankester says.

A tweet in time saves nine.

@sonalkhetarpal7

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Listening post

Timeless snap

Snapchat has introduced a new set of features in the latest version of its app, including limitless snaps, which do not have any time limit and users will be able to view them as long as they want until they manually opt out. The latest feature is one of the biggest changes that the social networking app has introduced on its platform. "These changes allow us to continue evolving the Snapchat service and provide a foundation for introducing even more creative tools for making fun Snaps," Snapchat said in a blog post. Another feature called Magic Eraser allows users to remove objects from their pictures. Snapchat has also introduced a new loop tool for videos, which will let users view a video repeatedly until they decide to move on to the next one.

Video Ads

Twitter will soon throw open its Moments feed for full-screen video ads, company representatives tweeted during an event recently held in Dubai. Moments is a curated collection of tweets on trending topics that any user can create. According to the digital media website Mashable, these video ads will be 10 seconds long, similar to short videos that play on Instagram and Snapchat. A while ago, Twitter had also announced a slew of live video partnerships with Bloomberg, BuzzFeed, Major League Baseball and Live Nation. Of late, most social networking sites are focusing on video content, which is being seen as the next area of growth. Twitter, however, is more desperate than others to tap this opportunity due to its stagnating user numbers and lack of profi tability.

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