To the Point: Brand Slammed?
Ah, the Internet. The easy access. The openness. The freedom. And … the total lack of control. The way anyone can say anything about you and post it anywhere.
People can talk to each other about your issue without having to do it through you. That means impassioned people can easily organize and achieve social change, even without formal organizations. I agree with that upside. But there’s also a downside.
Not everyone is out there to change the world for the better. Some people have less noble or positive agendas. And from this perspective, the lack of control can give you a headache and heartburn. Just ask Domino’s Pizza, which this spring had a delivery it didn’t expect: Two naughty employees posted a homemade video on YouTube where they abused a sandwich. Hundreds of thousands of people saw it and lost their appetites.
Could something like this happen to you? Yes. Imagine a donor ranting about her giving experience, which some donors already are doing on some of the Web sites that rate charities. Or someone you support grumbling about your services. If you’re monitoring online conversations (and I hope you are), you know this is already happening.
So what if someone disses your brand online? What do you do? Here’s what I recommend.
1. Listen for it
Be sure you monitor what people are saying about your organization online. Keep tabs via Google Alerts, and on Twitter (via TweetBeep, for example) and YouTube.
2. When you find something negative, assess who is saying it and who is listening
Is this one crazy person with no audience? You might want to just watch and wait. Or is it someone who talks to people in your audience? Even one noisy person can be a problem if she has or can rapidly build a following with people who matter to you. Or if, as in the case of Domino’s, the traditional media pick up on the diatribe. I generally err on the side of judging someone worth responding to rather than ignoring negative remarks.
3. Act fast on the site where it started
If you need to respond, do it now, in the venue where the situation started. Slow reactions are bad reactions. Things move at lightning speed on Web 2.0, and you don’t want something to spiral out of control before you get in a response. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers or every piece of needed information — just be transparent about it. “I’m really concerned with this and am looking into it” is better than radio silence. “I’m concerned our staff said that to you and am finding out what happened so I can give you the response you deserve” is better than nothing. Domino’s was right to respond to the video on YouTube — and to put spokespeople out there wherever it was getting airtime. By responding to a tweet on Twitter, you ensure rapid communication as well as achieve the potential to keep the controversy within the community in question. (Hence achieving a tempest in a twitterpot.)
4. Be honest, transparent, friendly and nondefensive
This is key. If there is misinformation out there, correct it in a helpful, noncombative way. My organization’s own crisis communications plan (hope you have one, too) sets out the following principles if we’ve made a mistake:
- Be sincerely apologetic if we’ve done wrong.
- Take responsibility.
- Err on the side of open, frequent communication.
- Be absolutely honest.
- Ensure what we say is accurate — if we’re not sure, say we’re not sure.
- Do all we can to fix problems and mitigate harm.
- Say what we’re doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This one is especially important.
5. Remember, it is a conversation
This isn’t a monologue by the critic or by you. Nor is it a war. It’s a conversation. When you respond, be open to reactions, and answer questions. You can’t post one response and call it a day; you need to keep tabs on the situation and participate in the ongoing conversation. FS