How to manage a crisis using social media

People tend to focus on social media mistakes, rather than victories. Indeed, just last month we looked at memorable social media fails. However, O2's excellent Twitter customer service earlier this month reminded us that there are also plenty of organisations who are able to turn social media disasters into social media successes. Here's a look at the companies using social media for effective crisis management - and how you can follow their example.

O2

On Wednesday 11th July, O2 experienced a "fault with one of our network systems which meant that some mobile phone numbers were unable to register correctly on our network". In other words, a lot of people couldn't call, text of use the net on their phones.

On the first day of the crisis, O2's response was typically corporate - apologising and saying they were working on fixing the problem.

However, as the problem dragged into the next day, something amazing happened - O2 started talking. To everyone. This is no mean feat, considering O2 was being tweeted every 6 seconds at one point. However angry the tweet, O2 responded with humour and humility.

Soon enough, angry tweets turned into appreciation of O2's brilliant handling of the situation, gaining PR and customer service wins at what was otherwise a disastrous time for the network.

O2's response worked so well as they were able to show personality at a time when most other companies would stick to being serious and corporate. Sure, there was a chance this approach could alienate angry customers, but silence would have been more alienating. O2's considerable effort to respond to every comment individually and personally was a definite social media success.


The American Red Cross

While not on the same scale as O2's problem, The Red Cross faced its own little crisis in February of last year when an employee accidentally sent a personal tweet through the American Red Cross account. It read:

"Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head's Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzerd"

The Red Cross deleted the Tweet very quickly, but also acknowledged it had happened:

This light and friendly approach went down well, with some people Tweeting that they had been prompted to give blood by the amusing incident. Dogfish beer, who were also mentioned in the Tweet, used the incident to encourage people to give blood, even using the hashtag #gettingslizzerd.

So what was a potentially damaging situation was quickly neutralised and in fact turned into a win. What this incident shows is that followers do see the funny side of things and will forgive slip-ups. The great thing about social media is that it makes companies more human, and Red Cross's response was funny, humble, personal and completely appropriate.


Toyota

Later in 2009, another high profile company would have a crisis - Toyota was force to recall millions of cars following a car crash that killed four people. The company faced lawsuits, operating losses, falling shares and of course, potentially irreparable reputation damage.

Toyota recognised the power of social media to help diffuse the crisis and created a social media response-room, where all social media conversations mentioning Toyota were monitored 24/7.

They took to multiple platforms to diffuse the situation, with President Jim Lentz issuing a YouTube apology, as well as participating in a Digg Dialogg interview and Twitter chat.Facebook was used to provide information and to direct people to Toyota's twitter feed and microsite. Twitter was used to respond to questions, share positive stories and again directed people to the microsite, which contained even more information.

As well as the apology, YouTube was used to post informative videos about the situation in easy to understand terms.

Toyota also established its own branded channel through Tweetmeme, which aggregated conversations, both positive and negative, about the subject.

The company recognised those that supported them and invited their 'brand loyalists' to tweet and blog positive stories and also featured some of these brand advocates in their YouTube videos.

After the crisis, Toyota experienced a 41% increase in sales compared to the previous year and grew its online fan base by 10%. More importantly, however, it showed it was prepared to go the extra mile to reassure customers, responding quickly across a variety of social networks thanks to a dedicated team.


Oreo

In June of this year, Oreo faced a massive social media backlash following their posting of a rainbow cookie in support of Gay Pride Month. While the move also attracted many positive comments, Oreo faced a massive social media backlash with over 35,000 threatening to boycott the product, and numerous people posting offensive and angry remarks to Oreo's Facebook page.

Oreo's response? To do nothing. While normally this is the cardinal sin of social media, Oreo recognised that these weren't people they could reason with, and it would not help the brand to antagonise an already volatile group of people. Instead, Oreo let the image speak for itself.

Whether or not you think a cookie brand should express an opinion about sexuality, the stunt attracted an extra million fans to Oreo's Facebook page.

You should always respond to feedback through social media, but as Oreo shows, reasoning with people that can't be reasoned with will not help your brand. A fantastic reminder to keep cool and to not feed trolls.

What we can learn from these examples is the importance of transparency. Oreo didn't offer phoney apologies and platitudes, Toyota gave customers direct access to their President, O2 made sure they relied to every person who got in touch with them and the Red Cross humorously owned up to their mistake. An effective crisis communications strategy that includes social media will ensure you too act appropriately and effectively should the unthinkable happen.