This week, with the grounding of Qantas planes both domestically and internationally, we saw outrage explode across social media in a scale that we have not seen before in Australia.
Internationally, hundreds and thousands of people took to Twitter and Facebook to express their disgust, anger and opinions. Some comments were focused on the Qantas action, particularly against Alan Joyce, and many comments were about ruined holidays, travel plans and inconveniences. Others were legitimate questions about flights and refunds.
Whether you support Qantas or the Unions, or just think the whole thing is a conspiracy (yes, the theories are flying), there are lessons to be learned for all businesses in how to deal with negative sentiment towards your brand on social media.
I wrote a blog 36 hours after the announcement analysing the messages, platforms and responses, or lack thereof, from Qantas. Within 12 hours a staff member from the Qantas social media team had responded, defending some of their actions and explaining some of the reasoning behind their choices. Apparently Qantas staff were on standby and were watching the social media platforms closely. You can read the full case study and response here.
Here are the top 5 things to remember if you find yourself in the middle of a social media crisis. Think about these things before it unfolds in your business and you may be better placed to respond when it does.
1. Listen First
As a crisis unfolds, it can be tempting to wade in boots and all to defend your brand. It is critical that you listen first. This is something that Qantas did do, although maybe for a little too long.
Try to identify key themes and key influencers in the debate. Form a response plan before you wade in. This doesn’t need to take long, but listen first and then act once you have an understanding of the common issues. Try to engage with key influencers if you are able to. Many media outlets took to Twitter and Facebook to find people who were impacted by the crisis. Themes like this provide an opportunity to connect with key influencers who are reaching your target audience.
They may be people who are industry experts, have an engaged following or speak often on your particular issue. Sometimes these influencers have more credibility than traditional media outlets.
2. Don’t delete
In the Qantas scenario there were many people claiming that their posts on Facebook were being deleted. They were then bombarding the wall with the same message over and over again. The Qantas staff member’s response was that the only messages being deleted were those that contained unacceptable profanity and those who consistently spammed their wall (if you had read that sentence 10 years ago it would make no sense at all). We’ll never know what actually happened, although I watched it unfold for six hours and it didn’t appear that messages were being deleted. In fact, there were many messages with extreme profanity and lots of repeat posting.
Don’t delete messages unless you absolutely feel it is necessary. An irate person will find another platform to vent their frustration. You only need to look at YouTube to see people taking iPhone footage and being vocal about their opinions. If you have to delete a message, explain to the community why you have done that. Incomplete conversation streams are easy to pick if messages have been deleted. This will detract from your credibility online.
3. Respond Respectfully
It is a good idea to always respond to comments rather than leaving them unanswered. In the Qantas scenario, it was impossible to respond to individual comments because of the sheer volume. The only messages for the first 2 days were scripted announcements about the grounding. They were accused of being cold and impersonal. All media outlets were saying (from a Qantas press release, no doubt) that people should go to Facebook and Twitter or call the hotline for more information. People were waiting up to five hours to get through on the hotline, so it was inevitable that, in place of useful information coming through, people would voice their thoughts.
If the volume is too high, at least endeavour to respond to customer questions and ignore the complaints. If it is excessively high, then at least explain that someone is there watching and taking in their comments, but the volume is too high to respond.
When you do respond, ensure that it is respectfully and professionally. This is not the time to get defensive. It is an opportunity for you to respond with facts and to restate the mission and values of your organisation. You want to do this in a way that answers their concern and doesn’t just push out your company line, which can appear impersonal and scripted. In some cases your biggest critics will become your greatest fans if you answer their concerns respectfully and professionally.
4. Tweets and trending twitter topics
#Qantas was trending along with #AlanJoyce and a few other related topics, for the first few days of the crisis. A topic begins to trend on Twitter when there are more than 1000 Tweets per minute. That was definitely the case for #Qantas and #AlanJoyce. The staff member from Qantas made the point that responding to individual Tweets would have clogged up the Twitter feed, meaning people who were looking for information would not be able to find it.
Let followers know why you are doing what you are doing. Look for themes in Tweets and post responses on themes rather than to each individual post. Not responding at all can look like no one is watching and this generally only escalates people’s frustration.
5. Committed Communities
The perfect outcome is a blend of official brand messaging and a whole lot of support from a committed and engaged community. If you have put in the time and effort to create a thriving community on Twitter and Facebook, you will find that your supporters will wade in beside you and defend your brand for you. This did happen for Qantas, as they have built a very committed community on Facebook in particular. However, the negative comments far outweighed the positive. A few days on, the supporters are becoming more vocal and the sentiment a little more balanced.
Put the goals of building of a thriving community and adding value at the forefront of all your social media efforts. If people feel like they get good quality information and that you respond to their questions and comments in good times, they are much more likely to defend you and support you in bad times.
Over to you. What are your thoughts? Have you had any experience in managing a crisis through social media? We’d love to hear any other tips you may have!
Kate is a social media specialist and the founder & CEO of Social Mediology. She is passionate about using online technologies to connect businesses with the customers, communities and causes they care about. Social Mediology specialises in ‘from the ground up’ social media strategy, implementation and training for small and medium sized business and the not-for-profit sector.